No.21 seed Paula Badosa overcame No.27 Victoria Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) to win the BNP Paribas Open championship in Indian Wells, the final WTA 1000 event of the season.
In the first meeting between the two players, Badosa denied the former World No.1 Azarenka in what would have been her third BNP Paribas Open title, the most of any player. Instead, it was the Spaniard who won the second WTA singles title of her season and her career.
The 3-hour, 4-minute match is this year's longest WTA singles final. It caps off a career-best week for Badosa, who defeated four Top 20 players in a row en route to the championship match, where she beat Azarenka to improve to 2-0 in WTA singles finals.
Post-match words: "I think it was a really tough match," Badosa said in press. "I think it was a really good one as well, because she played an amazing level. I think I had to rise [to a] high level every set. At the third set, I think I played my best. It was the only option if I wanted to win, so I'm really proud of it.
"The first thing that I've learned this week is that nothing is impossible. If you fight, if you work, after all these years, you can achieve anything. That's the first message that I see that could happen. And to dream. Sometimes you have tough moments. In my case, I have been through tough moments. I never stopped dreaming. That's what kept me working hard and believing until the last moment.
"I'm very happy what's happening. I'm a little bit still in shock what happened today because winning a tournament like this, it's always been a dream."
Fast facts: Badosa is now 6-0 in Indian Wells main-draw matches, storming to the title in her main-draw debut. She follows in the footsteps of the previous BNP Paribas Open champion, Bianca Andreescu, who also won the title in her tournament debut in 2019.
Surprisingly, Badosa is also the first Spaniard to take home the Indian Wells title. Former World No.2 Conchita Martinez came closest, with her runner-up showings in 1992 (lost to Monica Seles) and 1996 (lost to Stefanie Graf). Former World No.1 players Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Garbiñe Muguruza have never made the final here.
With the victory, Badosa halves her career-high ranking. She is currently one spot off her highest placement of World No.26, but Monday, she is projected to rise to a new high of World No.13 in the newest rankings.
Badosa is also in contention for a spot at the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara with the 1,000 points she earned. Badosa will slide into the No.8 position in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals with two weeks left before that tournament kicks off.
Azarenka: "The entire match the quality of tennis was super high level. We were both going for our shots, really pushing each other to the max.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 18, 2021
“That's what made it super entertaining, that competitive spirit, really fighting for every ball, not giving in anywhere.” #BNPPO21 pic.twitter.com/jAUvrYFtTU
Match stats: Both players were solid when their backs were against the wall. Azarenka saved eight of the 13 break points she faced, while Badosa fended off 10 of 17.
Overall, Azarenka had four more winners and eight fewer unforced errors than Badosa, with two closely contested sets bookending a second set where Azarenka dominated. Ultimately, the match was decided in the final-set tiebreak, where Badosa won five of the nine points with winners.
Key moments: Grueling games were the order of the day in the early stages of the first set. The players saved eight break points combined in the first four games alone. Later on, Badosa was up a break twice, at 4-3 and 6-5, but Azarenka was able to match the Spaniard power for power, pulling back level each time.
After 70 grueling minutes, the players moved into the first-set tiebreak, where Badosa saw a 4-0 lead slide back to 5-5. Incredibly lengthy rallies marked the end of the breaker, where Badosa at last grabbed a set point at 6-5. An astounding 28-shot rally wrapped up the first set after 79 intense minutes, won by Badosa with an amazing backhand crosscourt winner.
In the second set, though, Azarenka stepped into the court for her replies even more, while the Badosa groundstroke velocity decreased. Azarenka broke in the first game with a backhand winner, and she stormed through the set from there, eventually taking a 5-1 lead with depth and groundstroke precision. Two games later, Azarenka leveled the match at one set apiece.
An early exchange of breaks in the third set refused to clarify positions as the average game length stretched past five minutes. But Azarenka initially put herself in good position to win, holding for 4-4 with a stunning backhand down the line, then breaking Badosa for 5-4 and a chance to serve for the match.
But Badosa fired back to break for 5-5, and the pair moved into the decisive breaker. A litany of bold Badosa winners from both sides gave her a commanding 4-1 lead, and the Spaniard eased to victory from there, closing out the biggest title of her career with a forehand winner.