Our 2021 women’s singles final is set!
Two-time BNP Paribas Open champion Victoria Azarenka will face Indian Wells debutante Paula Badosa for the trophy on Sunday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, as both players prevailed in entertaining semifinal clashes against difficult opponents.
Azarenka gave it her all in the night’s first women’s singles semifinal on Friday evening in the Palm Desert, surviving Jelena Ostapenko‘s flurry of scintillating winners to advance 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 into her third BNP Paribas Open final.
It was all Ostapenko in the opening set as a sluggish Azarenka struggled to handle the lack of rhythm and overwhelming pace of the Latvian bruiser across the net. The two-time champion has been at her best this week in the quicker day session conditions but was patchy in her sole night match against Petra Kvitova in the third round, and her preference in environment was clear from the offset.
Conversely, Ostapenko has played some of her best tennis – day or night – this fortnight in the Palm Desert. The 2017 Roland Garros champion, revelling in the high bounces, thin air and slower court speeds, dispatched No. 2 seed Iga Swiatek in straight sets before reeling off five consecutive games to oust Shelby Rogers in three a round later. With time to tee off on her line-clipping groundstrokes, Ostapenko has been a bulldozer this week and continued that trend, overwhelming Azarenka in the first set to win it 6-3 in just over half an hour of play.
The No. 24 threatened to run away with the match as she broke early in the second and established a 2-0 lead. Conscious of her poor play in the first set but not deterred by it, Azarenka upped her intensity, seemingly willing herself to play better.
And it worked.
The 2012 and 2016 BNP Paribas Open champion began to find range on her backhand, punishing Ostapenko’s attackable serve and changing direction on her forehand with ease. Blink and you might have missed it – Azarenka recovered from 0-2 down to win four games in a row, ultimately winning her own 6-3 set and levelling the match.
Azarenka struck early in the decider, earning a quick break of the Ostapenko serve as the Latvian became increasingly frustrated at the close calls she was missing. After battling through her own first service game (saving three break points in the process), she was unable to weather the next challenge to her service game, dropping it to bring the final set back on level terms.
The quality of this first women’s semi-final picked up from there, as Ostapenko struck a ridiculous backhand down-the-line winner to save break point at 3-3, 30-40, followed by perfectly constructed forehand winner to save a second.
As the match threatened to head into a tiebreak, Azarenka struck in the eleventh game, giving her the chance to serve the match out. Tenacious in competitive spirt as she is audacious in shot-making, Ostapenko battled to break point in an attempt to extend the match, but was foiled by a brilliant lunging volley off the Belarusian’s racquet.
— wta (@WTA) October 16, 2021
With crowd fully invested in her victory and Azarenka fully fired up, two points later she closed out the match on one last Ostapenko error into the net. Raising her hands to the sky in relief, her toughest battle of the tournament was complete in two hours and 20 minutes of play.
On Sunday’s final, the former World No. 1 will play for a slice of BNP Paribas Open history: No woman has won three singles titles at this event and Azarenka moves within just one match of accomplishing the prestigious feat.
Will she become Indian Wells’ winningest woman? Paula Badosa will have something to say about that.
The 23-year-old Spaniard has been a revelation in the Palm Desert this week, knocking out opponents of impressive pedigree, including Coco Gauff, No. 3 seed Barbora Krejcikova and 2019 finalist Angelique Kerber.
She was similarly impressive in a mature 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur in the second women’s singles semifinal of the night.
Jabeur, whose run to the semifinals will guarantee her a place in the Top 10 when the WTA Rankings are released on Monday, never really found her range on a cool Friday evening in the desert and struggled to hit through her No. 21-seeded opponent.
Badosa, for her part, was solid as she’s been all week, defending and attacking with admirable aplomb and running down the many Jabeur drop shots for easy winners. Offering no weaknesses for the Tunisian to exploit, she scored victory on her sixth match point to reach (by far) the biggest final of her career.
Against Azarenka, Badosa plays an opponent she has yet to face but who employs a similar baseline consistency that thrives in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden conditions. Sunday’s final is sure to be a thriller as the former plays for tournament history and the latter plays for her long-awaited breakthrough.