In a record-breaking three hours and four minutes of unbelievable tennis, Spain’s Paula Badosa is the 2021 women’s singles champion, defeating Victoria Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) in the match of the tournament – and possibly the match of the year.
It was a first set that couldn’t be described as anything other than epic, with both players trading blows from the back of the court and refusing to give an inch. The first three games alone took 20 minutes to get through, as eager late-arriving fans waited in the wings to take their seats for the women’s singles showpiece at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The first swing in momentum went to Badosa in the seventh game of the set as she bullied Azarenka from the baseline with her heavy top-spin forehand, keeping the Belarusian out of position and away from her preferred backhand wing. Azarenka, however, would strike right back, crushing a pair of forehand returns with a delicate drop-shot winner sandwiched in between to break Badosa’s serve in the next game.
It was an absolute slugfest from there, with the two unyielding competitors exchanging breaks one more time as first-set proceedings would be decided by a tiebreak.
The 23-year-old Spaniard jumped out to the early lead, collecting two mini-breaks to surge ahead 4-0. Disappointed with her sluggish start, Azarenka started a running monologue with herself between points to fire up her game – and it worked. She was able to claw her way back to 5-5, but an incredible 28-shot rally on the first set point set way went the way of Badosa, who capped off the rally of the tournament with a perfectly placed backhand winner.
One hour and 20 minutes.
And there was still two more sets to play.
Undeterred from losing a titanic opening set, Azarenka imbued her signature fight into the first few games and quickly found herself up two breaks against Badosa. whose own energy dipped following her set one heroics. In less than half the time it took to complete the set prior, it was Azarenka jogging to her chair having wrestled the match back on even terms.
Knowing that a quick start would be key if she was to make a push for her first WTA 1000 title, Badosa stamped her authority on the opening Azarenka service game of the third set and securing an early 2-0 lead.
As she did all match, however, Azarenka wouldn’t back down from the challenge of a comeback. The two-time BNP Paribas Open champ broke right back and began hitting deeper into the court, knocking back Badosa with heavy forehands and hammering point-ending backhands into the open space.
Azarenka’s tenacity was rewarded with a break in the ninth game as she stepped to the service line to close out victory. But a match of this quality and drama couldn’t have a straightforward conclusion, obviously; the No. 21 seed broke back right away after Azarenka hit four consecutive errors to surrender the break back.
Two gritty holds later from both women and the championship was headed to a deciding tie-break. It was a nervy decider for both, but the lesser experienced Spaniard was the one to hold steady on the big points as Azarenka’s consistency fell to the wayside.
Ultimately playing with the confidence required to hold the game’s biggest trophies – Badosa struck pin-point serves, punishing backhands and powerful forehands, sealing victory with one last winner cross couirt and making history as the winner of the longest recorded women’s final in BNP Paribas Open history. Even more? She’s the first Spanish woman to claim the title here.
Congratulations to tennis’ newest star: Paula Badosa!