The Insider Wrap is a recap of everything you need to know from the week that was. This week, WTA Insider looks back at the 2021 BNP Paribas Open, which minted a new champion in Spain's Paula Badosa. The special fall edition of Indian Wells saw the return of Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, the history-making run from Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, and a final that will likely go down as the WTA Match of the Year.
Performances of the Tournament: Paula Badosa and Victoria Azarenka
Was Sunday's gripping 3-hour and 4-minute BNP Paribas Open final the match of the year? It's most certainly a favorite in the conversation. Not only was the match the longest final of the season, but there was not a moment when the quality, tension or drama dipped.
For Indian Wells Champion Badosa, her gritty win over a competitively relentless Azarenka was a statement. The 23-year-old Spaniard has enjoyed a breakout season full of consistent and deep runs, but her biggest moments have come outside the spotlight.
Her stunning win over No.1 Ashleigh Barty in Charleston came in the wake of the Australian's run to the Miami title. A semifinal run in Madrid, first WTA title in Belgrade, and first major quarterfinal at Roland Garros piqued the public's interest, but on a tour of unprecedented depth and talent, getting all eyes on you can a tough task through no fault of your results.
In her Indian Wells main-draw debut, Badosa's tournament unfolded similarly. She was posting Top 20 wins and defeating major champions, but came into the final under the radar, given the understandable attention surrounding Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez's first tournaments since the US Open, Ons Jabeur's historic milestone, and Azarenka's resurgent form.
But against one of the game's great champions and competitors, Badosa put on an undeniable showcase of her strengths as a player and competitor. It wasn't the result itself that was impressive, but how the Spaniard did it. Twice in the first set she led by a break only to see Azarenka break back. In the first set tiebreak she led 4-0 only to find Azarenka level at 5-5. How did she respond? By outhitting the two-time champion to win a grueling, disciplined 28-ball rally on set point.
This is where we pause to praise the singular competitor that is Victoria Azarenka. Heading into her final tournament of the season, the former No.1 had endured a frustrating season to forget. From her hard quarantine in Melbourne to a season-long struggle to stay healthy, Azarenka could not find the level she touched last season, when she won Cincinnati and made the US Open final.
And so, Azarenka came into her ultimate event with an eye toward 2022. At the start of the tournament, she stressed her desire to use her matches in Indian Wells to implement necessary changes to her game with an eye to becoming more efficiently aggressive. As Azarenka saw it, shorter points meant shorter matches which meant less physical impact.
That efficient version of Azarenka may have booked her spot in the semifinals. She lost just one set with wins over Petra Kvitova, Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Jessica Pegula. But it was her trademark refuse-to-lose attitude that made her final two matches in Indian Wells - including an incredible three-set comeback against Jelena Ostapenko in the semis - must-see memorable performances that served as a clear reminder why she is such a beloved champion and feared opponent. No one scraps better than Victoria Azarenka.
Ons Jabeur: If there's anything the Indian Wells fortnight underlined, it was just how beloved Jabeur is in the tennis community. The Tunisian secured her historic Top 10 debut by advancing to the semifinals, defeating her friend Anett Kontaveit in straight sets to set up another friendly matchup with Badosa. With the win, the 27-year-old became the first Arab - man or woman - to ever break the ATP or WTA Top 10. Billie Jean King shouted it from the rooftops, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick applauded, and Jabeur's competitors and colleagues from and down the rankings gushed with excitement for their friend.
But there was no time to rest on her laurels. In with a chance to qualify for her first Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, Jabeur was immediately on a plane to Moscow and will play on Tuesday at the Kremlin Cup.
Jelena Ostapenko: If Ostapenko had her way, the 2021 season would be extended through December. That's how good the Latvian feels after advancing to her first WTA 1000 semifinal since her run to the 2018 Miami final. Tallying wins over Hsieh Su-Wei, Yulia Putintseva, Iga Swiatek, and Shelby Rogers, the 2017 Roland Garros champion led Azarenka by a set and a break before the Belarusian found a way to extend rallies and extract errors. The run puts Ostapenko back in the Top 30.
Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens: The Wimbledon champions nearly found themselves bundled out of the tournament in the second round but otherwise enjoyed a dominant two weeks to win their second team title and secure qualification for the WTA Finals.
More on the thoroughly entertaining and unpredictable duo here.
Anett Kontaveit: The Estonian had run off 18 consecutive sets of tennis before losing to Jabeur in straight sets in the quarterfinals, but it can't be stated enough how impressive Kontaveit has been since late summer. Since Cincinnati, Kontaveit has lost only two matches over five tournaments, compiling a 16-2 record over that span. Her two losses came to Swiatek at the US Open and Jabeur in Indian Wells.
Leylah Fernandez: The Canadian teenager continues to be a box office draw. As she did in New York, the US Open finalist has the uncanny ability and on-court charisma to make every match she plays a riveting performance. Whether it was her shot-making masterclass against Alizé Cornet in the second round or her three-set battles with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (win) or Shelby Rogers (lost), the fiery introvert draws you in and takes you on a ride.
Jessica Pegula: In any other year that did not necessitate frozen rankings, Pegula would be in with a shot of finishing her stunning 2021 season as the top-ranked American. Ranked No.21 after making her fourth WTA 1000 quarterfinal this season - in addition to making her first major quarterfinal in February at the Australian Open - Pegula finished out her regular season with wins over Sloane Stephens and Elina Svitolina.
Shelby Rogers: The 29-year-old Charleston-native has won some significant deciding tiebreaks over the past few weeks. It's how she stunned No.1 Ashleigh Barty at the US Open and it's how she ousted Fernandez in Indian Wells, winning 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) in the Round of 16. In New York, Rogers followed up that big win with a disappointing let-down against Emma Raducanu in the next round. But there was no let-down in Indian Wells. Rogers gave Ostapenko all she could handle in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 loss in the quarterfinals.
Iga Swiatek: The ultimate results might not have been what Swiatek was hoping for in her tournament debut - the 2020 French Open champion lost to Ostapenko in the Round of 16 in singles and blew a 6-1, 4-1 lead in the second round of doubles to eventual champions Hsieh and Mertens. But the surprise announcement after her third-round win, that she would be donating $50,000 of her prize money to a mental health non-profit in honor of World Mental Health Day caused a ripple and raised important awareness.
Aliaksandra Sasnovich: The affable Belarusian looked at the draw, saw her name surrounded by major champions, and laughed. Then she won. Sasnovich did not lose a set as she took down US Open champion Raducanu and two-time champion Simona Halep in back-to-back matches, earning a first-time meeting with Azarenka. Sasnovich bowed out there, but she once again showed why seeded players never want to see her name next to theirs in the early rounds of a tournament.