Paula Badosa beat Victoria Azarenka at Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS, California — On the usual March dates, the BNP Paribas Open has been a starting point for great talent in recent years.

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

Time will tell as 27th-placed Paula Badosa won her first top tier title after beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (2) in a three-game final on Sunday. Hours and four minutes of effort and flexibility in temperatures approaching 90 degrees.

Badosa, 23, is older than Osaka or Andreescu, with whom they made their breakthrough at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. But he was once a young genius, and now he’s doing his best. On Monday, he will enter the top 20 for the first time at number 13.

Badosa was born in New York, where his Spanish parents lived and worked, but the family soon moved back to Spain, where he began playing tennis.

Arantxa Sánchez Vicario was identified early on as someone with the kind of drive and talent to become Spain’s next great actress after Conchita Martinez and Garbiñe Muguruza.

He played his first professional satellite tournament at age 14, won two rounds at the Miami Open at age 17 in 2015, and won the French Open junior title that year. But he struggled with expectations and touring, he went through a difficult process. fully developed depression This left him struggling to get out of bed, much less train for competition.

Badosa sought professional help and found a new coach who helped reshape his game and regain his confidence, qualifying for his first Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open in January 2019.

She chose to be open about her mental health issues by recording a video describing her journey in 2019. But his rise to the elite began in earnest in 2020 after a five-month hiatus from professional tours mandated by the coronavirus pandemic. Badosa reached the fourth round of the French Open, which was postponed from spring to October, and was poised to succeed at this year’s Australian Open in preparation for the off-season after a strong fight, but was put in tough quarantine after a charter flight to Melbourne like Azarenka.

Both players lost in the first round, but Badosa continued to have a groundbreaking season: he won his first WTA Tour title in Belgrade in May, and then reached the quarterfinals of the fourth round of the French Open. Quarter-finals of Wimbledon and Tokyo Olympics.

He’s 5 feet-11 years old, has a physical presence and great strength on the serve, forehand, and two-handed backhand. But he’s also a natural mover, capable of countering from corners and chasing shots that cunning Ons Jabeur tried against him in Friday’s semi-finals.

Azarenka presented a very different challenge. While Jabeur relies on the turn and sudden speed changes, Azarenka is a straight-line player in the most dangerous moment where he can take a full hit on the turn or step onto the field and find a sharp angle with his best shot: two- he gave back. It is also quite effective on the net, where it is often successful on Sundays.

Former #1 Azarenka didn’t have his best season in 2021. But hard ground is at its most dangerous, and Indian Wells has long been one of its happiest hunting grounds.

There are no major tournaments in Belarus, the homeland of Azarenka. But this parched portion of the United States is also an area that feels like home. After leaving his hometown of Minsk to find better educational opportunities, he lived in Arizona as a teenager and later bought a home in Manhattan Beach, California in the Los Angeles area.

She won the singles title at Indian Wells in 2012 and 2016, looking set to continue dominating the women’s game this year. Instead, she got pregnant with her son, Leo, and left the tour for about a year. Upon her return, she was unable to compete constantly and at one stage was unable to leave California due to a long-running custody battle with her ex-boyfriend Billy McKeague.

But it still got some high marks: above all US Open final last year. And she’s still one of the purest goalscorers and best comebacks in women’s football.

“I’ve been seeing you many times,” Badosa told Azarenka, 32, at the post-match ceremony on Sunday. “I remember telling my coach that I hope one day I can play like him.”

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

Azarenka was close to becoming the first three-time women’s singles champion at Indian Wells on Sunday. After losing the first set in temperatures approaching 90 degrees, Badosa roared to win the second set as he struggled to produce the same consistency from baseline.

Azarenka radiated positive energy throughout the match, raising her fist and moving purposefully between points. Although Badosa took a 2-0 lead in the final set, Azarenka did not give up. He bounced back 2-2 and then broke the Spaniard’s serve at 4-4 for a chance to serve the match.

At 30-0, Azarenka was just two points away from victory, but after about three hours chasing the title, she lost her way and made forced mistakes in the next four points, losing her serve, allowing Badosa to be hunted again at 5-5. .

He didn’t waste the opportunity, taking a quick 3-0 lead and taking command of the next tiebreak, widening the lead to 4-1 with a forehand winner and then closing the match with another forehand winner at the first championship spot.

It was the finishing touch to the biggest victory of Badosa’s career, and he immediately dropped his racket, fell onto the field, and started sobbing, covering his face with his hands.

“A dream come true,” he said after the victory, thanking his support team and tournament director Tommy Haas.

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

It has been an unusual and tough edition of this prestigious tournament, which was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and postponed to October this year. But while female stars like Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, and Serena Williams are missing and the crowd is much less than usual, the 2021 BNP Paribas Open was a worthy end to the event’s hard-earned reputation.

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

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