Paula Badosa, Victoria Azarenka in Surprise Indian Wells Final

She stays at her finest on hardcourts. When she beat her longtime rival Serena Williams in a three-set thriller to succeed in the 2020 U.S. Open last, it appeared she was in position to return to the fore this year. But she didn’t make deep runs on the Grand Slam tournaments in 2021, and Sunday’s match will likely be her first tour singles last of the season.

“I think my season has been tricky,” she mentioned. “There were parts where I physically couldn’t bring that extra level, extra fight, which was very frustrating. Then there were parts where I felt that I was looking for something to add, and I didn’t necessarily know what it was. It was lot of searching.”

Persistence was actually required in her high-velocity, high-intensity semifinal with Jelena Ostapenko, the sturdy and highly effective Latvian who can pound a tennis ball like few on the planet and barely deprives herself of the pleasure. Many of her 45 winners had been properly past the 6-foot Azarenka’s attain. But after dominating the opening set, Ostapenko’s trademark high-risk strategy resulted in extra errors. Azarenka adjusted to the tempo and started capitalizing on Ostapenko’s often-shaky second serve.

Azarenka got here inside two factors of defeat late in the third set and needed to battle off three break factors in the ultimate recreation: saving the final with a uncommon and gutsy drop shot that she adopted to web, the place she learn Ostapenko’s passing shot completely and hit a lunging volley winner.

“Can you be more brave than that?” Azarenka mentioned.

She quickly closed out her 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory, and Badosa adopted her into the ultimate by defeating Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-3 however solely after failing to transform her first 5 match factors. When Jabeur’s final shot sailed vast, Badosa dropped to the court docket, relieved and overwhelmed.

Ranked seventieth on the finish of final season, she reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at this year’s French Open and the fourth spherical at Wimbledon earlier than splitting with Javier Martí, the coach who had helped build the inspiration for her robust season.

She now works with Jorge Garcia, a Spaniard who coached her in her youth, and as she has proved on the comparatively gradual hardcourts in Indian Wells, she is a multi-surface risk. She has highly effective groundstrokes, full-stretch defensive expertise and a capability to come back rapidly ahead to chase down dropshots or end off exchanges on the web.

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