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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, October 17, 2021

Paula Badosa

Paula Badosa outdueled Victoria Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) in a pulsating three hour, four-minute Indian Wells final to claim the biggest title of her career.

Photo credit: BNP Paribas Open Facebook

Tugging on her vanilla visor, Paula Badosa confronted career crunch time with serene focus and a fierce forehand.

Trust and vision powered Badosa to the Indian Wells title in stirring style.

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In a wildly entertaining epic, Badosa edged Victoria Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) to become the first Spanish woman to win the BNP Paribas Open.

This was a three hour, four minute thrill ride of a final with electric exchanges, jittery mis-fires, some superb shotmaking and both women exuding pure warrior spirit.

It was the longest Indian Wells women's final in history and the longest WTA final of the season. 

"It was a really tough match. I think it was like a roller coaster mentally, emotionally," said Badosa, who improved to 16-6 in three-setters this season. "It was my first final in a 1000. I had a lot of emotions.

"I was playing Vika. She's a great champion. I admire her since I was a little girl, so that's another thing. Yeah, it was amazing. I'm still a little bit in shock that what happened right now. But in that moment I was super excited and super proud of what I did after three hours fighting on court."

Playing to make history as the first woman to win three Indian Wells singles crowns, Azarenka came achingly close holding a 30-lead when she served for the title at 5-4. Azarenka blinked committing four unforced errors, and Badosa exploited that lapse realizing her own historic vision.

Forget about the stats, this final fight was about pure heart and grit from both women.

"I would agree with comparing it to the match of the year. I think the entire match the quality of tennis was super high level," Azarenka said. "We were both going for our shots, really pushing each other to the max. I think that's what made it super entertaining, that competitive spirit, really fighting for every ball, not giving in anywhere.

"It's very challenging to maintain that. I think that we both did that really well."

Committed to the cause, Azarenka played some exceptional net points, pumped her fist furiously to punctuate winners and summoned vintage Vika backhand bolts down the line.

Credit Badosa, whose forehand failed her she blew a 40-15 lead at 4-all in the decider, for amping up her aggression and firing that forehand with courageous conviction streaking out to a 5-1 lead in the decisive tiebreaker.

Whipping a forehand winner crosscourt on championship point, Badosa collapse to the court as if absorbing the remarkable rise she’s made this year. The woman who started the season ranked No. 70 has rocketed up the rankings to a career-high No. 11 in the live rankings and has put herself in position to qualify for the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

It has been an astounding run for Badosa, who beat three Grand Slam champions—reigning Roland Garros singles and doubles champion Barbora Krejcikova, three-time major titlist Angelique Kerber and two-time Slam champion Azarenka—to collect her biggest career title and champion’s check of $1.2 million in her Indian Wells debut.

In this first Indian Wells singles final in two-and-a-half years, two warriors pushed each other all over the court giving us a match for the ages. Both showed clash and shared mutual respect in the aftermath of a fierce final fight.

“Vika congratulations; I remember I was 14, 15 years old seeing you winning Grand Slams,” Badosa said after hoisting the crystal trophy. “I remember saying to my coach, one day I hope I can play like her.

“So it’s amazing. Thank you for inspiring me so much. I wouldn’t be here without you, really, really, so thank you.”

Afterward, Azarenka said she was touched by Badosa's tribute.

"Honestly very touching. I think that's also part of my motivation also to play, is to inspire people to be in our sport, not necessarily in our sport, to go after their careers, keep pushing the boundaries for women in sports, careers, anywhere," Azarenka said. "It's very touching. It's always important to be a good player, a better person off the court. If I inspire people with my tennis, that's only even more motivating for me to keep doing what I'm doing."

Through six games both women staved off stress tests before Badosa broke through in game seven. A fine defensive dig and an Azarenka double fault helped the Spaniard earn break point. Reading the wide serve, Badosa jumped on it thumping a forehand return winner down the line to break with a clenched fist for 4-3.

The former No. 1 fired a forehand return winner of her own breaking right back to even after eight games. Azarenka showed the sting—smacking her second ace—and soft touch tapping a drop shot as she navigated another break-point challenge holding firm for 5-4.

Tennis Express

The 27th-seeded Belarusian staved off a break point in the 11th game but Badosa belted a forehand return right back at her rattling an error for a second break point. Azarenka saved it but jerked an attackable forehand wide for a third break point. Again, Badosa shrewdly smacked a return right back at the serve coaxing an error to break for 6-5.

Serving for the set at 30-all, Badosa boldly attacked and had two shots to finish the point from net, but could not do it. Azarenka earned the break point then lifted a topspin forehand down the line breaking back to force a tiebreaker.

Though she started the breaker on the sunny side of the court, Badosa exploited a sloppy start from her opponent surging to a 4-0 lead. Azarenka dug in and won five of the next six points leveling when Badosa clipped the tape with a running forehand.

Both women were firing with damaging intent as Azarenka lined up her signature shot—the backhand down the line—but netted it giving the Spaniard set point at 6-5.

A crackling 28 shot rally escalated until Badosa opened the court with a crosscourt forehand then stepped in and smacked a backhand winner crosscourt to close the drama. The Spaniard pointed an index finger to her temple symbolizing the mental strength she showed. After failing to serve out the set and squandering a 4-0 tie breaker lead, Badosa still fought through a physical one hour, 19-minute set in draining heat.

Wasting no time between points, Azarenka was jumping up and down pumping herself up. Channeling eagerness into energy, Azarenka broke to start the second set and barged through her third consecutive break at love for 3-0.

A lethargic Badosa, who paid a physical price for the opening set, wasn’t hitting the ball as big and was a half-step slower than Azarenka in running rallies.

A fantastic running dig from Azarenka saw her flick a backhand pass crosscourt for break point. A weary Badosa badly missed a backhand as Azarenka broke again for 4-1.

Serving for the set, Azarenka zapped her fourth ace followed by a stinging serve to force a final set after one hour, 52 minutes.

Through two sets, the 32-year-old mom looked physically fresher than the 23-year-old Spaniard. Badosa rhythmically swung her arm shadow-swinging practice serves before the start of the finale.

An adrenalized Badosa threw down a 122 mph ace followed by a body serve holding to open. Azarenka nudged a volley into net to face a break point. Though the Belarusian gamely extending the point Badosa stepped forward and fired down the line drawing the error to break for a 2-0 lead.

Both women were crunching groundstrokes as Azarenka broke back and leveled after four games. Elevating again, Badosa banged a backhand down the line to erase break point and bolted an ace holding for 3-2 after two hours, 27 minutes of tense drama.

Aiming for history, Azarenka answered with a commanding love hold.

Both women were lasering lines in an electric rally that ended with Azarenka lashing a backhand down the line drawing even after eight games.

Empowered by that stand, Azarenka dug in and refused to miss drawing three straight forehand errors from Badosa. The two-time champion broke for a 5-4 lead as a disconsolate Badosa buried her face in her hand after failing to close a 40-15 lead.

"That was the toughest one. For one moment I had some negative thoughts there," Badosa said. "I think I overcame very good on the next game. I knew that for any player in the world, even that you're a champion, that's very tough to close the match. I knew I had to stay there as much as I can, keep fighting. I tried to fight every point in the 5-4 and I could win that game.

"I think I played very good from the 5-All to the 7-6. I think I played really, really good."

The two-time Grand Slam champion was two points from a historic third Indian Wells title at 30-0 when she lost her range committing four unforced errors as Badosa broke back for 5-all.

Despite punishing rallies, neither woman dawdled in the heat. Badosa turned up the pace of her strokes in the final tie breaker throttling a running forehand for 4-1. A slicing body serve brought Badosa four championship points.

Badosa needed only one thumping one final forehand and crashing to the court in elation.


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