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Paula Badosa outlasts Victoria Azarenka to win at Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS, Calif .– In its usual March dates, the BNP Paribas Open has been a launching pad for top 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 of 27th Paula Badosa, who won her first top title on Sunday with a 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (2) victory over Victoria Azarenka in a final that required three hours and four minutes of effort and resilience in temperatures approaching 90 degrees.

At 23, Badosa 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. On Monday, she will enter the top 20 for the first time in 13th place.

Badosa was born in New York where her Spanish parents lived and worked, but the family soon returned to Spain where she 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 struggled with expectations and the tour, going through a full-blown depression that left her struggling to get out of bed, let alone training for the competition.

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

She chose to speak openly about her mental health issues, recording a video in 2019 that recounted her 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 advanced to 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 also a natural motor, capable of kickbacks in corners and chasing 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 onto the pitch and find a sharp angle with his best shot: his two backhands. She is also very effective at net, where she often thrived on Sundays.

Former No. 1, Azarenka hasn’t had her best season in 2021. But she is the most dangerous on the hard courts, and Indian Wells has long been one of her happiest hunting grounds.

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

She won the singles title at Indian Wells in 2012 and 2016, when she looked set to regain dominance in 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 lengthy custody battle over her former boyfriend Billy McKeague.

But she still reached new heights: especially her run for the US Open final last year. And she is still one of the purest ball attackers and top returlers in women’s football.

“I saw you many times,” Badosa told Azarenka, 32, 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 in temperatures approaching 90 degrees, she came back strong 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 her 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 the win but after nearly three hours chasing the title she lost her way, making unforced errors on the next four points to lose her serve and allow Badosa to return to the chase at 5-5.

She didn’t waste the opportunity, taking command of the ensuing tie-breaker by taking an early 3-0 lead, snapping a forehand winner to extend the lead to 4-1, then closing the match on his first league point with another forehand winner.

It was a finishing touch to Badosa’s biggest career victory, 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 after the victory.

“I know times have been really tough, so I appreciate all 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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