Paula Badosa outlasts Victoria Azarenka to win Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS, Calif .– In its usual March dates, the BNP Paribas Open has been a launching pad for major talent in recent years.

Naomi Osaka won the title in 2018 and then won the US Open, upsetting Serena Williams in the final. Bianca Andreescu won the title in 2019 and did the same.

Time will tell on Paula Badosa, 27th, who won her first place championship Sunday with a 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (2) victory over Victoria Azarenka in a thriller of a final that required three hours and four minutes of effort and resilience with temperatures on the terrain exceeding 90 degrees. Time will tell on Cameron Norrie, too, as Badosa’s unexpected run through a brutal draw that included Coco Gauff and three great singles champions wasn’t the only surprise at Indian Wells. 21st seed Norrie also won his first top title, beating Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Sunday. Norrie, born in South Africa and raised in New Zealand, is the first British player to win the BNP Paribas Open singles title. Badosa, born in the United States, is the first Spanish woman to do so.

At 23, she is older than Osaka or Andreescu when they made their breakthroughs at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. But she was a teenage prodigy herself and now does her talent justice after dealing with mental health issues and working with a series of psychologists.

“There were times when I thought I would never get here,” she said on Sunday. “I suffered a lot and had to work on it a lot. Everyone was in a rush, and I think I had a hard time with expectations, that at 20 or 21 you should be winning big tournaments.

On Monday, she will enter the top 20 for the first time in 13th place. It’s a hell of a climb for a player ranked 70 at the end of 2020.

“I think the first thing I learned this week is that nothing is impossible,” Badosa said. “In my case, I went through difficult times. I never stopped dreaming. This is what allowed me to work hard and believe in it until the last moment.

Badosa was born in New York because his parents were worked in the fashion industry, but the family soon returned to Spain where Badosa started playing tennis.

She was identified early on as someone with the kind of motivation and talent to become Spain’s next great player after Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Conchita Martinez and Garbiñe Muguruza. She played her first professional satellite tournament at age 14, won two rounds at the Miami Open as a wild card participant at age 17 in 2015, and won the Roland Garros junior title later in the year. . But she went through a full-blown depression that caused her to struggle to get out of bed, let alone train for competition.

Badosa sought professional help and found a new coach who helped her retool her game and rebuild her confidence and outlook, and in January 2019 she qualified for her first Grand Slam tournament in the Australian Open.

She chose to be open about it extrajudicial disputes, by recording a video in 2019 which told of his journey. But his rise in the elite began in earnest after the five-month hiatus from professional tours forced by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Badosa reached the fourth round of Roland Garros, which had been postponed from spring to October, and after strong off-season preparation, she was set to do well at this year’s Australian Open to end up, like Azarenka, in hard quarantine after the charter flight to Melbourne.

Both players ended up losing in the first round, but Badosa had a decisive season: she won her first WTA Tour title in Belgrade in May, then qualified for the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, the fourth round of Wimbledon and the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics.

At 5-foot-11, she has physical presence and great power on her serve, forehand and two-handed backhand. But she’s very fit and also a natural motor, capable of corner kickbacks and chasing the drop shots that wily Ons Jabeur attempted against her in the semi-final on Friday.

Azarenka posed a very different challenge. While Jabeur relies on spin and sudden changes of pace, Azarenka is a straight line player at her most dangerous level when she can take a full cut on a comeback or step into the pitch and find a sharp angle with his best shot: his two backhands. She is also effective at net, where she often thrived on Sundays.

Former No. 1, Azarenka did not have her best season in 2021. But she is at her best on hard courts, and Indian Wells has long been one of its most enjoyable hunting grounds.

There are no major tournaments in Belarus, Azarenka’s home country. But this parched part of the United States is also a place to feel at home. After leaving Minsk to find better training opportunities, she lived in Arizona as a teenager and then bought a house in Manhattan Beach, California, in the Los Angeles area.

Azarenka won the singles title at Indian Wells in 2012 and 2016, the year she looked set to begin to seriously dominate women’s football. Instead, she got pregnant with her son Leo and quit the tour for almost a year. After returning, she was unable to compete regularly and was unable to leave California at some point due to a long custody battle over her former boyfriend Billy McKeague.

But she still reached new heights: especially her run to the US Open final last year. And at 32, she remains one of the purest ball attackers and best turner in women’s football. She was one of Badosa’s childhood models along with Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal.

“I saw you many times,” Badosa told Azarenka during the post-match ceremony on Sunday. “I remember telling my coach that I hope one day I can play like her.”

“Thank you for inspiring me so much,” Badosa added. “I wouldn’t be here without you.

Azarenka was close, very close, on Sunday to become the first three-time women’s singles champion at Indian Wells. After losing the first set of the marathon in an hour and 19 minutes, she quickly roared to win the second set as Badosa struggled to produce the same consistency from the baseline.

Azarenka gave off positive energy throughout the game, pumping his fist and moving deliberately between points. Although Badosa took a 2-0 lead in the last set, Azarenka did not falter. She fired back at 2-2, then broke the Spaniard’s serve at 4-4 for the chance to serve for the game.

At 30-0, Azarenka was only two points away from victory but after nearly three hours chasing the title she strayed, committing unforced errors on the next four points for give up his serve and allow Badosa to return to the chase at 5-5.

She didn’t pass up the opportunity, taking command of the ensuing tiebreaker: landing a winning forehand for to take a 4-1 lead, then close the game on his first league point with another forehand winner.

It was a finishing touch to the most important victory of Badosa’s career, and she immediately dropped her racquet, fell onto the pitch and started to sob, her hands covering her face.

“A dream come true,” she said thanking her support team and tournament director Tommy Haas.

“I know it’s been a really tough time, so I appreciate everything you’ve done,” Badosa told Haas.

It was indeed an unusual and difficult edition of this prestigious tournament, canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and postponed until October of this year. But if female stars like Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams went missing and the crowds were significantly smaller than usual, the BNP Paribas Open 2021 had a final worthy of the country’s hard-earned reputation. event.

If all goes according to plan, no guarantees in the coronavirus era, Badosa will defend his biggest title in just five months. The 2022 edition should be played in its usual window from March 7 to 20.

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