It was a brilliant two weeks of action in Tennis Paradise, wouldn’t you agree?
Fans were treated to world-class tennis as they’ve come to expect every year – even if this year’s edition of the BNP Paribas Open occupied a different spot on their calendars. As such, it was a tall order to pick the top 10 matches of the tournament… but we did our best!
It was an early-round epic that kicked off the BNP Paribas Open in style. A favorite wherever he players, No. 11 seed Diego Schwartzman had his back against the wall against serve-and-volley revivalist Maxime Cressy, a UCLA alumnus with huge support in California. In front of a packed and energetic crowd, the two contrasting styles put on a show, with Schwartzman edging out victory after saving match point late in the deciding set.
Sefanos Tsitsipas didn’t have it easy in any of his matches in the Palm Desert this year, but willed himself into winning positions against some tricky opponents – including Australian speedster Alex de Minaur. It’s been a decent season for the nimble Aussie, compiling two ATP 250 titles but underperforming at the bigger events. He pushed No. 2 seed Tsitsipas hard, covering the court with frustrating efficiency, but it was the Greek who raised his level to overcome the challenge and reach the quarterfinals.
Angelique Kerber looked to be cruising to victory against Tokyo 2020 women’s doubles gold medalist Katerina Siniakova in their second-round encounter on Stadium 3. Yet the tenacious Czech found a way to fight back in the second set, pulling her seeded opponent into lengthy all-court rallies. The final set was a battle of wills, with Kerber – the 2019 runner-up in the Palm Desert – pulling in the crowd with some ridiculous shot-making in the tightest of moments, ultimately going the way of the German after two hours and 31 minutes of high-quality tennis.
Was there been a more compelling story than Leylah Fernandez in the first few rounds? After fellow teenage sensation Emma Raducanu lost in her opener, Fernandez was able to consolidate her newfound fan base in three spectacular matches at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Against an in-form Shelby Rogers in the fourth round, she battled hard and indulged the crowd’s passion, but it was the sturdiness (and exceptional serving) of Rogers that gave her the edge in a tense final-set tiebreak.
Grigor Dimitrov backed up his upset of reigning US Open champion and top seed Daniil Medvedev with another resilient win over an in-form player in the quarter-finals. Hubert Hurkacz had been dominant on the slower courts at the BNP Paribas Open, using his consistency off both wins and quick serve through the thin desert air to score straight-forward wins in his first three matches. Yet Dimitrov was able to dig deep and find some of his best all-court tennis when it mattered – the third-set tiebreak which he won 7-2 to close out victory.
It was a battle of big personalities on the second Friday of the tournament, with the hot-tempered but high-octane Jelena Ostapenko dominating the first set and leaving Victoria Azarenka, a fiery competitor in her own right, with few answers. Yet the Belarusian was able to find them in the second set, willing herself into a higher quality of tennis and forcing Ostapenko into errors off heavy defensive shots. A clutch dropshot-and-volley combo down break point while serving for the match was a highlight, and two points later, Azarenka closed out the match in front of an electric Stadium 1 crowd.
A Murray-Alacaraz second-round had everyone’s attention when the BNP Paribas Open men’s singles draw was released, and not only did it happen – it delivered. The clash of generations had everything from lung-busting baseline points to silky smooth drop shots. Murray shot off to an early lead in the first and took advantage of nervy play from the 18-year-old Spaniard – but Alcaraz fought back to win it and claim the early lead. But the three-time Grand Slam champion’s veteran savvy and greater experience told the tale in the end, as Alcaraz couldn’t maintain his heavy hitting on a sweltering day in Tennis Paradise, giving Murray the win in nearly two-and-a-half hours.
It might not have been the highest-profile match-up of the tournament, but it was certainly one of the highest-quality matches at the BNP Paribas Open this year. No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina had few answers to Sorana Cirtsea’s flat hitting in their third-round match, but dug her heels in to keep the match close in the final two sets. Enduring off winner after winner off the Romanian’s racquet, Svitolina defended with aplomb and won several tense exchanges with wonderous passing shot winners. In a final set that lasted an hour, the Ukrainian counterpuncher stole an impressive victory and earned her place in the fourth round.
Home favourite Taylor Fritz – who grew up just a few hours southwest of Indian Wells – pulled off one of the shocks of the tournament, ousting No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev in a quarterfinal classic. Fritz continued his imperious form in the desert (he knocked out seeded Italians Jannik Sinner and Matteo Berrettini in his previous rounds) against Zverev, recovering from a break down with exceptional hitting to score the biggest win of his career and maiden Masters 1000 final.
The 2021 BNP Paribas Open saved its best for last, as Paula Badosa and Victoria Azarenka put on a two brilliant performances to give fans the best match of the tournament in the women’s singles final. Clocking in as the longest-ever women’s final in the Palm Desert at three hours and four minutes, it was a shame that only one of these spectacular competitors could win. The tennis was of the utmost quality and the tension was palpable as allegiances in the crowd were split between Badosa and Azarenka.
Ultimately, Badosa’s fearlessness in the final-set tiebreak pushed her over the edge as she became the first Spanish woman to win in Indian Wells and denying Azarenka a record-breaking third title here. What a way to cap off another brilliant event at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.