Paula Badosa won the biggest title of her career as she denied two-time champion Victoria Azarenka a piece of history at Indian Wells.
The 23-year-old edged a high-quality encounter 7-6 2-6 7-6 in three hours and four minutes to become the first Spanish woman to lift the trophy.
It is only Badosa’s second WTA Tour title following her success in Belgrade back in May and it stopped Azarenka from becoming the first female singles player to win the BNP Paribas Open on three occasions.
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The triumph moves Badosa up to number 11 in the world and keeps her firmly in the hunt to make the WTA finals in Mexico.
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Speaking during the trophy presentation, Badosa paid tribute to Azarenka.
“I remember when I was 14, 15 years old and seeing you winning Grand Slams," she said.
I remember saying to my coach that one day I hope I can play like her, so it’s amazing (to play you), thank you for inspiring me so much. Without athletes like you, and women like you, I would not be here. This is a dream come true.
Azarenka had the early edge, applying continual pressure on the Badosa serve but failing to snare an advantage despite clocking up five break points across an opening four games that lasted a lung-busting half an hour.
The Spaniard’s resistance paid off soon after as a rasping return saw her strike first blood for a 4-3 lead. Former champion, Azarenka responded to bite straight back but the Belarusian misfired on her forehand to allow her 23-year-old opponent to break again and serve for the set at 6-5.
However, Azarenka produced incredible defence to somehow win back-to-back points at 30-30 to force a tie break where she again threatened to turn the tables on the No.21 seed. Badosa almost blew a 4-0 lead as the two-time Grand Slam champion levelled at 5-5, but the Spaniard came out on top in one of the rallies of the match to take the breaker 7-5 and edge an epic one hour and 18-minute opener.
Azarenka’s response was immediate and the stuff of champions as she rapidly secured a double break to lead 3-0 in Set 2.
Badosa, who was aiming to round off her main-draw debut at the tournament in style, offered a brief riposte but the former world number one made short work of forcing a decider as she dropped just two games with a statement purple patch.
The young Spaniard looked to be in trouble but found her A-game at just the right moment, battling back from 0-30 to hold before securing a surprise break to lead 2-0.
Azarenka inevitably retorted, in-keeping with the rollercoaster nature of the match to level at 2-2 and both players had opportunities before the Belarusian broke in Game 9 to move 5-4 ahead and serve for the title. It wasn’t to be though as she unravelled at 30-0 and a series of unforced errors allowed Badosa to break back.
A tie break ensued and once again Badosa raced away to win it 7-2 and take the crown, leaving Azarenka to ponder what might have been as a chance to claim her maiden title of 2021 slipped away.
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