The first-ever fall edition of Tennis Paradise is in the books. We look back on a fortnight to remember:
1 | PAULA BADOSA IS RESILIENT… It hasn’t always been easy for 2021 BNP Paribas Open champion Paula Badosa. After winning the girls’ singles title at Roland Garros in 2015, the Spaniard struggled with all the expectations, and has since openly discussed her bout with depression: “I think it’s important to talk about that because it’s something very normal,” she said. “It’s a very tough sport. You pass through a lot of things. When I achieve something like this, the first thing that passes through my head, it’s that, those tough moments. When I was there, I never believed that I could be in a final or I can be fighting against champions and legends like Vika [Azarenka] or Angie [Kerber] or all these other players. For me, it’s an amazing feeling to be here.”
2 | NORRIE IS BRITAIN’S BEST… Cameron Norrie made the most of his time in the desert. The former TCU star — born in South Africa, raised in New Zealand and schooled in the heart of Texas — sliced his way through the draw to his sixth title match of 2021, a number equaled only by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. He then roared back from a set down against another first-time ATP Masters 1000 finalist, Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, a win that makes him the new British No. 1 at No. 16 in the rankings. Said the 26-year-old, “It means so much, I can’t even describe it. It’s absolutely massive for me and my team. I can’t really believe it. If you would have told me I would have won before the tournament started, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s amazing. I’m still taking in all the emotions.”
3 | UPSETS WERE APLENTY… You weren’t alone if you penciled Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Karolina Pliskova, Iga Swiatek or Barbora Krejcikova into the men’s/women’s finals in Indian Wells. But the likes of Cameron Norrie, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Paula Badosa, Tommy Paul, Taylor Fritz, Grigor Dimitrov and lucky loser Beatriz Maia Haddad had other plans, as the top seeds dropped by the day. On the men’s side of the draw, for the first time in the 280 ATP Masters 1000 events held since the start of the series in 1990, all four semifinalists were ranked outside of the Top 25.
4 | THE DESERT IS PARADISIACAL IN OCTOBER… The dates might have changed, pushed back from March to October, but the over-the-rainbow beauty of Tennis Paradise remains a constant.
5 | EMMA RADUCANU HAS A GOOD HEAD ON HER SHOULDERS… No one created more buzz coming into the 2021 BNP Paribas Open than Brit sensation Emma Raducanu, fresh off her US Open/Met Gala/Bond premier whirlwind. The 18-year-old got a crash course in Tour Life 101 in just her fifth WTA tournament, showing some ahead-of-her-years perspective after a 6-2, 6-4 opening-round loss to Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich. “It’s going to take me time to adjust really to what’s going on. I’m still so new to everything. The experiences that I’m going through right now, even though I might not feel 100 percent amazing right now, I know they’re for the greater good. For the bigger picture, I’ll be banking this moment. That’s the lesson I think, that you can easily get sucked into being so focused on the result and getting disappointed. I’m 18 years old. I need to cut myself some slack.”
6 | ONS IS A TOP-10 FORCE… Ons Jabeur not only broke through to her first WTA 1000 semifinal, she made tennis history in Indian Wells. The Tunisian became the first Arab — man or woman — to crack the Top 10 in the rankings. “I have a lot of emotions right now,” said Jabeur, who owns a tour-leading 48 match wins in 2021. “I’m very happy that I got to reach the goal that I’ve been waiting for for a long time. I knew that I had the level, but sometimes it’s tough to get there. The experience that I’ve gained, especially this year with all the matches that I’ve played — I think I deserve to be in the Top 10. It’s a dream team I have. I hope we continue working hard. Now we are even more motivated to go even to the Top 5. Why not No. 1 in the world?”
7 | TENNIS JUST ISN’T TENNIS WITHOUT THE FANS… After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, the BNP Paribas Open returned to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. No one was more appreciative than the players, who reveled in the opportunity to play in front of fans once again. “The crowd does help to get you fired up,” said two-time BNP Paribas Open titlist Victoria Azarenka, a runner-up in 2021. “I’m very grateful that we actually have fans now because it’s been such a weird year. Somewhere you have fans, somewhere you don’t have fans.”
8 | THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HAT… How fun is Su-Wei Hsieh!?!? The delightfully offbeat force from Chinese Taipei captured her third BNP Paribas Open women’s doubles title, all of which have come with different partners: Peng Shuai (2014), Barbora Strycova (2018) and Elise Mertens (2021). En route to this year’s title, she unveiled some unconventional headwear that had Mertens in stitches. “She’s so creative,” said the Belgian. “She was jumping around with a dragon hat on. I had to laugh so hard.”
9 | GRIGOR IS HIS OWN MAN… The expectations were outsized from the start. How could they not be? When you start drawing comparisons to Roger Federer, you can only come up short. But when, not yet 20, Grigor Dimitrov cracked the Top 100 in 2011, the parallels began to surface. The similarities — that all-court grace, the sweeping one-hander, the wrist-cocked forehand — were uncanny. And so a burdensome nickname was born: Baby Fed. The Bulgarian has spent much of the past decade trying to emerge from that shadow and become his own man. That was never more evident than at the 2021 BNP Paribas Open, where the 30-year-old, more at peace with his career than ever, punched through to the semifinals. “I feel different,” said Dimitrov. “I’ve been trying to get back into a good rhythm of living. I’m very focused on my everyday life as of late. I’m really trying to focus not too much on winning or losing. Every day, when I get out here on the court, I know what I’m doing. When the job is done, I move on to the next thing.”
10 | THE VIKA PERSPECTIVE… Super mom Victoria Azarenka has racked up the victories in the Coachella Valley over the years. But despite her rewarding late-career resurgence, which includes a run to the 2021 BNP Paribas Open final, the 32-year-old Belarusian says it’s her hidden triumphs that resonate the most. “The best moments are invisible moments, the ones that nobody sees and you overcome,” she said. “Those couple of moments in my life happened where I was super proud of myself which had nothing to do with tennis.”
11 | LEYLAH IS A PUZZLER… Buoyed by her surprise run to the all-teen US Open final, Canadian Leylah Fernandez continuously brought fans to their feet during her first main-draw appearance at the BNP Paribas Open. Amidst all the momentum-swinging fist-pumps, we learned that the 19-year-old is a self-described introvert who’s drawn to such solitary pursuits as puzzles, sodoku, Rubik’s Cube, anything that involves on-the-fly problem-solving. That mindset served her well at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, too, where she roared back from a set down to defeat Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, to reach the Round of 16.
12 | ANDY MURRAY STILL HAS SOME FIGHT IN HIM… It’s been a rough go for Andy Murray over the years, at least when it comes to battling his body. The former No. 1 and three-time major champion underwent right wrist injury in 2007, season-ending back surgery in 2013, and a pair of hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019. But the Scot, 34 and ranked an uncharacteristic No. 121, showed he’s still hungry for titles. Murray schooled the Rafa-endorsed Carlos Alcaraz in Round 2, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, only weeks after the 18-year-old Spaniard broke through to his first major quarterfinal at the US Open. “It’s pretty hard playing top-level professional sport with a metal hip,” said Muray, a BNP Paribas Open runner-up in 2009. “There’s obviously lots of compensation happening around that area. I would imagine my body is taking some time to get used to that. On top of that I’m not young either. I’ve played a lot of years on the tour, so there’s some wear and tear in other parts of my body, too. But this is, physically, the best I’ve felt for a while.”