Across a memorable BNP Paribas fortnight, several WTA Tour players opened up on sundry issues from space travel to wedding planning. Here are some of their best bits:
Azarenka stays grounded
Star Trek actor William Shatner's real-life space voyage was a hot topic of conversation last week. It didn't impress eventual runner-up Victoria Azarenka much, though.
The Belarusian clarified that it was "pretty cool from an engineering standpoint." But she pointed out that humanity should have more pressing concerns.
"Me personally, I kind of like Planet Earth," she said. "I hope we as society will take better care of it before moving to another planet. That's kind of where I stand."
Badosa bounces back from coaching change
Paula Badosa's run to the championship had some extra significance for the Spaniard.
She had raced up the rankings in the first half of 2021, a surge for which she was quick to credit coach Javier Marti. Then they abruptly split following the Tokyo Olympic Games - "a change that came from one day to another," as Badosa put it. Early-round losses to Rebecca Marino and Varvara Gracheva followed in August.
"It was tough, because I had to play the U.S. swing alone," the 23-year-old said.
For that reason, this tournament - in which she defeated Coco Gauff and Barbora Krejcikova en route to the title - was "the one I'm most proud of," she told the press.
"It means a lot for me. Of course, a change, always it's scary. Maybe even though that things are going well, when you change, sometimes you lose a little bit of confidence. When I was coming here, I remember I was a little bit afraid of what could happen. But I'm happy I went through all that. Mentally I'm strong again."
Badosa is now working with her childhood coach, Jorge Garcia.
"He was my coach before when I was 15 years old," she said. "He knows me a lot. We have a good relationship and that's important. He's helping me and I'm happy with my decision."
Thank you Sir Andy! Are you by any chance up for a practice? I really need to improve my skills on grass. 🙈— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) June 7, 2021
Swiatek x Murray
A meeting between Iga Swiatek and Andy Murray has been on the cards for a while now. During Roland Garros, the former ATP World No.1 praised the defending champion's game, and she quickly responded with a request for some grass-court practice ahead of Wimbledon.
It didn't happen then, but after her debut win at Indian Wells, Swiatek named the Briton as her dream practice partner. This time, Murray responded in the affirmative. So how did it go down?
"I was talking a little bit more with his coach, because he was late for his practice," Swiatek said. "Basically I talked with his coach about how Andy does it, [when] he's constantly talking to himself between points and it's working out well and he's like pumping him[self] up. Because usually when I talk to myself, I go on court and I'm angry, you know. I really would love to learn how he does that."
The Pole still got what she came for - even though it was difficult.
"And I was talking with Andy about my grass-court skills. So that was a hard topic."
Fernandez turns entertainer
During Leylah Fernandez's run to the US Open final last month, the Canadian teenager's exhortations to the crowd to show their excitement after standout points became a signature of her matches. This continued in the California desert, particularly in her 2-hour, 41-minute comeback over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round.
In New York, Fernandez cast herself as a born entertainer, saying big crowds were something she had envisioned from an early age.
"I've imagined myself playing on every tournament, every Grand Slam, at the biggest stage," she told press then. "When I was younger, since I used Justine Henin as a great example, I would imagine myself playing against her. I would also imagine myself playing against Serena and Venus, and the past few years playing against Osaka in a big tournament."
It's a bit more complicated than that, though.
"I am a person who is an introvert, likes puzzles," Fernandez said in Indian Wells. "I like figuring things out - Sudoku, Rubik's cubes, problems."
It turns out that despite her childhood dreams, Fernandez's realisation that she could feed off the crowd was a revelation even to her.
"When I was younger I always imagined myself playing in a big crowd, but I never knew how I would react knowing how I am off the court, how I was growing up," she said. "The way that I reacted in New York, the way that I was reacting here in Indian Wells - using their energy, having fun on the court, let's say interacting with the crowd, too, with my tennis. It has definitely surprised me as a person; has definitely helped me and my tennis game to go for it, to just trust my game."
Sasnovich a keen student of Azarenka
All-Belarusian encounters are rare on the WTA Tour, especially at the biggest tournaments. When Victoria Azarenka clashed with Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the fourth round, it was only the sixth time she had played a countrywoman at WTA 1000 level or above.
Naturally, 27-year-old Sasnovich had grown up watching her illustrious compatriot. But she's continued to study Azarenka for reasons beyond national pride. Sasnovich considers the two-time major champion a useful tactical example to follow.
"She has a nice plan with each player she plays," Sasnovich said after upsetting Simona Halep in the third round. "For example, if I need to do plan - like I play tomorrow against Cirstea, I'm going to watch how Azarenka played against her. Because, in my opinion, she has the best plan [for] how she needs to play against [other] players."
Azarenka accepted the compliment graciously.
"That's really nice of her to say," she said. "I'm honoured to hear that. Especially when somebody from my country is kind of looking up to me, it's really awesome, makes me feel good."
While she acknowledged that identifying the right tactics was "something that I'm able to do real well," Azarenka said that her problem had been deviating from them anyway.
"I create those difficulties for myself where I'm not being rational and I'm trying to be stubborn, kind of prove to myself that I can do it even though maybe it's not the right way. I have been many times making my life more difficult than I should do. ... I think it does in a way come natural to me. But one thing is analysing that, and the second thing is actually doing it. Those two things, when they come together, that's a skill."
In Azarenka's opinion, the two players who have best demonstrated that skill against her have been Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams.
Pegula and Halep take laissez-faire approach to wedding planning
It's wedding season on the WTA Tour. Simona Halep arrived in Indian Wells as a newlywed. She married Toni Iuruc less than a month before in her hometown of Constanta. Meanwhile, quarterfinalist Jessica Pegula was using the tournament as a warmup to her own wedding with Taylor Gahagen on Nov. 22.
One thing they both had in common: a hands-off approach to planning any of it.
"I haven't been that much of a Bridezilla," said Pegula, whose wedding had originally been planned for 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic. "I picked a couple things. There's a couple things I wanted. Other than that, it's kind of been all my mom. My mom, honestly, loves to plan anything, events, parties. Literally she'll be there. I don't know where she finds the time, but she'll be there till 3 a.m. gluing stuff, printing things out. She literally does things by hand."
Meanwhile, Halep also let others look after the details.
"My husband took care of the wedding, so I didn't move one finger for it," she said. "I just said that I want white flowers, so he knew what I like and he did everything. So thanks to him I didn't have to stress myself for the party. I just enjoyed it. Many people came, my family, my friends. After two days, I went to the gym - I was back very fast to do the training after the wedding."