Spain's Paula Badosa sealed a spot in the biggest final of her career Friday night, defeating Ons Jabeur, 6-3, 6-3 to secure her 40th win of the season and advance to Sunday's BNP Paribas Open final.
The World No.27 will face two-time champion and former No.1 Victoria Azarenka for the first time for the title. With wins against Barbora Krejcikova and Angelique Kerber this week, Badosa is looking to beat a third major champion en route to a second WTA title.
Badosa is the first Spanish woman to make the Indian Wells final since Conchita Martinez finished runner-up in 1996 and 1992, and she has done so in her main-draw debut. Seeded No.21, the 23-year-old Spaniard has lost just one set en route to her second final of the season. Before her win versus Jabeur, Badosa defeated Dayana Yastremska, Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova and Angelique Kerber.
Badosa's win over French Open champion Krejcikova in the fourth round was her fourth Top 10 win of what has been a breakout season. She began the season ranked No.70, and Monday, she is projected to make her Top 20 debut.
"Mentally I think I'm very confident," Badosa said. "I'm believing every point. Every day I'm working very hard as well. I think I'm progressing on a little bit of everything and that's what is making my level going up. That's why I'm in a final and playing against the best of the world."
Badosa and Jabeur had split their two prior meetings, both on hardcourts. Jabeur won their most recent encounter in a tight three-set win at the Miami Open this spring. The two good friends, who both won their first WTA titles this season are in contention to qualify for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara.
Badosa broke serve 20 times over her four matches heading into Friday's semifinals. That trend continued against Jabeur, who struggled to hold serve in the face of the Spaniard's return games. In total, Badosa would break the Jabeur serve four times on the night and kept Jabeur uncomfortable in the baseline rallies.
Badosa opened the match with an immediate break of serve and consolidated for a 2-0 lead. Jabeur successfully closed the deficit with the prolific use of dropshots to shorten rallies and disrupt Badosa's baseline rhythm, but Badosa's steadiness and patience ultimately won the day. The Spaniard reeled off the final three games of the opening set to move within a set of her first hardcourt final.
Jabeur had her chances throughout the night but converted just 1 of 10 break points. In the opening set, Jabeur failed to convert from 0-40 in the second game and again failed to convert from 15-40 at 4-3. Badosa certainly helped her cause by serving at nearly 70% first serves in for the match and winning 75.6% of her first serve points.
"Today I feel like I did something different than other days," Jabeur said. "I was really fighting hard even though I knew I wasn't playing very well. I just tried. I tried to think. I tried to do whatever in my power. Honestly I don't regret much because today she was a much better player."
The second set was decided by just one break of serve. Jabeur, who is set to make history on Monday as the first Arab player to ever be ranked in the ATP or WTA Top 10, stayed level with Badosa before falling behind at 2-3, 15-40. Badosa broke on her second break point to lead 4-2.
Badosa had three chances to break for a fifth time and seal the match at 2-5, but Jabeur found some of her best shot-making to save three match points and hold in a dramatic penultimate game, coming through six deuces to stay within a break at 3-5.
Turning point: The final game was not short on drama. With Oscar winner Charlize Theron cheering from the stands, Jabeur earned triple-breakpoint to get back on serve at 3-5, 0-40. But Badosa did not flinch, saving all three break points and finally closing out the match on her seventh match point.
Stat of the match: Jabeur fired 24 winners to 35 unforced errors, while Badosa played a more contained match, hitting 15 winners to 22 unforced (seven unforced errors came off double faults). Ultimately, the match came down to break point conversion. Jabeur had break point chances in four games but broke just once. Badosa had break points in six games and broke four times.
Badosa on improving her hard court game: "After I played clay - I did a very good clay season - I wanted to improve on a lot of things on hard court," Badosa said. "I worked a lot. Then I had the grass court season. Then I was playing again on hard court. I did pretty good. Not amazing, but I did good in Olympics, Cincinnati, all that. I still wanted to improve a few things.
"I think I'm doing it very well this week. I'm pretty happy that I improved really fast. I'm quite proud of myself on that."
Jabeur heads to Moscow to secure WTA Finals qualification: "I feel like my goal right now is to recover because I think I play Tuesday, which sucks because I thought I would have a bye," Jabeur said. "Of course, someone took wild cards in Moscow. I have maybe a 10-hour flight. That gives me plenty of time to think about what happened this week.
"But, yeah, my main goal is to be ready for Moscow. The same goal: Guadalajara. I'm really not far. A lot of things in play. A lot of things depend on Paula right now. Let's see what's going to happen."