Badosa edges to title and denies Azarenka history

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 11 in the world in keeps her firmly in the hunt to make the WTA finals in Mexico.

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 maiden title of 2021 slipped away.

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'The beginning of great things' – Jabeur makes history after reaching semis

Ons Jabuer believes this is “the beginning of great things” after making history by becoming the first Arab player to reach the top 10 in the world rankings.

The Tunisian ensured that she will break into the WTA top 10 with a 7-5 6-3 win over Anetta Kontaveit in the quarter-finals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

Jabeur started the year at No 31 in the world, and has aspirations to continue to climb higher.

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“This is a dream coming true. This is something that I’ve been wanting. I always wanted to get there, to be No 1 in the world,” she said.

“Top 10, I know, is the beginning. I know I deserve this place for a long time since I was playing well. But I want to prove that I deserve to be here, I deserve to be one of the top 10 players. There are a lot of things that I need to improve.

“I’m very happy, a lot of emotions right now, but I’m still in competition so I’m trying to calm down and not overthink about the top 10.

“I just believed in myself, I worked hard, and this is just the beginning of great things.”

Kontaveit had won 16 of her last 17 matches heading into Thursday’s quarter-final, but Jabeur swept to victory to secure a tour-leading 48th win of the season.

She has also become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title in 2021, made her first Wimbledon quarter-final, reached finals in Chicago and Charleston, and notched five top-10 wins.

Asked about being a trailblazer for the Arab world, Jabeur said: “It is much different to come from my country than being American or French or Australian. They have not just the example of seeing players playing in front of you, more tennis clubs, even more tournaments, let’s say.

“I’ve been rejected by sponsors because of where I come from, which is so not fair. I didn’t understand why before. I accepted it. I dealt with it. I am really proud of the person I became today, just not relying on others.

“Everybody had probably a difficult career. I’m not saying I have the most difficult one. I just wanted to really do this. It’s my dream. I didn’t want to depend on a sponsor or someone who doesn’t even care about tennis or doesn’t even care about sport in general. It gave me the courage to continue and achieve my goals, and I’m in top 10 today.”

Jabeur will next face Paula Badosa after she won 6-4 6-3 against Angelique Kerber.

Badosa and Jabeur are good friends on tour, and the Spaniard joked: “I hope tonight she eats a lot of burgers and she cannot play!

“We were just talking now. It’s really fun to play against her. We’re really good friends again so I’m playing another friend. It’s going to be a tough one.

“I always said she’s one of the most talented players in the world. She’s doing an amazing year. It’s nice seeing all these players that we were like a few years ago outside the top 100 now being top 10, top 20, fighting for the finals. It’s amazing. I’m super happy and I’m happy that I can play her.”

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Azarenka treasures 'invisible moments' after making Indian Wells semis

Victoria Azarenka says she is savouring the “invisible moments” after beating Jessica Pegula to reach the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells for the fourth time.

The former world No 1, who won Indian Wells in 2012 and 2016, needed just 94 minutes to beat Pegula and set up a meeting with Jelena Ostapenko.

Azarenka will be aiming to reach her first final of the year and says she is pleased with her improving form.

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“The results are coming,” she said. “That’s the measure, right? How else are you going to measure your progress?

“In tennis unfortunately it’s all by the results, especially that measure from the outside. For yourself, you can put little goals and try to kind of climb that ladder. At the end of the day your results are going to determine how well you performed, which sometimes can be tricky.”

With her win over Pegula, Azarenka is now joint-third on the all-time list for most match victories at Indian Wells alongside Caroline Wozniacki. Only two women, Lindsay Davenport (47) and Maria Sharapova (38), have more than Azarenka’s 32 wins.

“I’m not the type of person who likes to really step back and look back because I still feel like I’m in my journey,” she added.

“I don’t necessarily reassess, kind of take from my old experiences: ‘Oh, that’s how it felt.’ I don’t necessarily think you remember the whole picture. It’s more about certain selective memories that you pick out.

“The best moments are invisible moments I will say, the ones that nobody sees and you overcome. I will say that those couple moments in my life happened where I was super proud of myself which had nothing to do with tennis results.”

Ostapenko reached her first WTA 1000 semi-final in three years with a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win over Shelby Rogers.

The 2017 French Open champion has done plenty of travelling in the last few weeks as she played in Cincinnati, before heading back to Europe as she missed the US Open for medical reasons, and then coming back to the USA.

“It’s really great because especially after I couldn’t play US Open, I was really sad about it because I was in such a great form before,” she said.

“I think it’s another great opportunity because it’s a big tournament. I just enjoy it. It’s the last couple of tournaments this season. I’m just going to try to enjoy it as much as possible.

“I honestly feel like I can continue the season much longer, but there are not many tournaments left. Most of the players are very tired, but I don’t feel like that. I’m kind of feeling very fresh.”

The two remaining quarter-finals take place on Thursday as Ons Jabeur faces Anett Kontaveit and Paula Badosa takes on Angelique Kerber.

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Pliskova beaten by lucky loser Haddad Maia, Andreescu also out

Lucky loser Beatriz Haddad Maia claimed the biggest upset of this year’s BNP Paribas Open as she beat top seed Karolina Pliskova in straight sets.

World No 115 Haddad Maia had lost in the final round of qualifying, but got a second chance after the withdrawal of No 29 seed Nadia Podoroska.

She is making the most of the opportunity as she beat world No 3 Pliskova 6-3 7-5 in two hours and four minutes to reach the last 16.

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“I’m very happy with my win and my work today,” she said. “It was very tough conditions for both of us. It was very windy. I didn’t serve that well but I was returning well. I was doing my best.

“I think the key was my resilience in my mental game. Now I’m proud of myself, of my work, and I’m going to prepare and get ready for tomorrow against [Annett] Kontaveit.”

Anett Kontaveit reached the last 16 after beating defending champion Bianca Andreescu in straight sets.

Kontaveit improved her head-to-head record against the Canadian to 3-0 as she won 7-6(5) 6-3 to advance.

“It was extremely close throughout the match and I was just trying to stay tough. I was ready for a tough match,” said Kontaveit. “She’s such a good player, such a great competitor, so I knew it wasn’t going to be over until it was really over.”

Paula Badosa produced an impressive performance in windy conditions to beat 15th seed Coco Gauff 6-2 6-2.

The 27th seed will next face French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who continued her strong summer with a 6-2 6-3 win over Amanda Anisimova.

“Barbora, we are very good friends,” said Badosa. “We practice a lot. We played as well. She’s doing an amazing year. Insane. She’s a very talented player, so I know it’s going to be a very, very tough match.”

Angelique Kerber reached the last 16 at Indian Wells for the sixth time as she beat Daria Kasatkina 6-2 1-6 6-4 while Ons Jabeur powered her way past 22nd seed Danielle Collins 6-1 6-3 in just an hour and 13 minutes.

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Swiatek donates Indian Wells prize money to mental health charity

Iga Swiatek has revealed that she will be donating $50,000 of her third-round prize money at Indian Wells to a mental health charity in honour of World Mental Health Day.

Second seed Swiatek was in brilliant form as she breezed past Veronika Kudermetova in less than an hour to set up a last-16 clash with Jelena Ostapenko.

Swiatek, 20, has travelled with a sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, for the last three seasons and thinks it is important to “raise awareness in terms of looking for help and support if we need it”.

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“I would say in sports, for me it was always important to use that kind of help because I always thought that in my mental toughness there is some strength that I can use on court and I can also develop in that manner,” said Swiatek.

“But I also know everybody has different paths, and it’s great that we can choose our path because I know that there are people who also don’t need psychologists. Basically, I’m not saying that ‘hey, you should do that if you want to be the best’, because everybody has a different personality and everybody has different needs.

“It’s just good to stay open-minded. If you need that kind of help, then go for it. If you’re up to it and if you’re open-minded, I think it helps a lot.

I would like to dedicate today’s win to all the people who aren’t OK. And contribute to help them even if only a bit for now. I will donate $50k of my prize money from the third round in Indian Wells to non-profit providing mental health support.

Swiatek said the idea came to her during the match and was partly inspired by Venus Williams’ initiative with the WTA and BetterHelp which provides $2m of free therapy to the public.

“Venus Williams inspired me a lot because when I saw her statement and initiative that was so great.”

Swiatek has lost just five games in two matches on her Indian Wells debut and has now made the last 16 or better at all but two tournaments this season.

“I was just feeling pretty confident,” she added. “Again, as in my second round, my tactics worked pretty well. I just wanted to change the rhythm sometimes so she can get a chance to sometimes miss and in some points be offensive so she can feel the pressure.

“But basically, I wanted to make a gift for my psychologist because usually when I lose there is some drama. So let’s just say she has the day off today.”

Her latest victory came a year to the day after she won the French Open without dropping a set.

Reflecting on the last 12 months, Swiatek said: “I felt like the first period of the year from January to June it was pretty tough because we had many Grand Slams, we had Olympics. I felt a lot of pressure.

“But here I feel kind of free because even though we have the WTA Finals at the end, I feel like I reached my goals and I went even higher than our goals. So I’m pretty happy about that and I feel like I can play without any expectations and just feel myself on court, which is great.”

Swiatek has had the chance to chat to Andy Murray at Indian Wells this week after revealing that he would be her dream hitting partner.

Murray invited her for a hit on social media, but the pair didn’t get the chance to share the court together and instead had to settle for a discussion on the side.

The pair spoke for a few minutes, with both laughing before departing to prepare for their respective matches.

Murray beat talented youngster Carlos Alcaraz in a tough three-set match to set up a third-round clash with Alexander Zverev.

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Raducanu did not have 'enough fire' in loss to Sasnovich, says Keothavong

Emma Raducanu was lacking fire in her loss to Aliaksandra Sasnovich at Indian Wells, according to Anne Keothavong who has urged the US Open champion to “chill and calm down.”

Raducanu caused a huge stir when becoming the first British woman to win a grand slam since Virginia Wade in 1977 when lifting the US Open in September.

The teenager has gone from relative unknown to one of the biggest names in the sport in a matter of weeks.

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Her first appearance since the US Open came at Indian Wells, and ended in disappointment with a 6-2 6-4 loss to Sasnovich.

The hallmark of Raducanu’s US Open campaign was consistent excellence, but it was the polar opposite in the California desert as there were far too many errors on show.

Britain’s former Fed Cup captain Keothavong was not surprised to see Raducanu stumble, and urged the 18-year-old to take time out and refocus.

“There are a number of combinations,” Keothavong said on Amazon Prime. “You can put it down to expectations, you can put it down to three weeks, different tournament, different circumstances, different conditions, it was never going to be easy and Sasnovich made life tough for Emma.

“She got into a good position, she led 4-2 in the second set but she played a terrible service game to allow Sasnovich make into it and never quite get a foothold into it and it was just error after error after error, the body language and the shoulders were slumped, not enough fire in Emma.

“She just needs to go off and chill and calm down. It is going to be a tough one to take for her, she would have had high expectations herself, the confidence, wanting to show everyone what she was capable of, but it is back to the drawing board.

“She is still new to all of this, she still has a number of tournaments left before the end of the season so there is time to pick things up again, work on her game.

“She knows inside she could have done better, she could have had better presence, but maybe one not to overthink.”

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US Open champion Raducanu suffers shock Indian Wells defeat

Emma Raducanu suffered a shock defeat as Aliaksandra Sasnovich dumped her out of the BNP Paribas Open in what was the British number one’s first match since her fairytale US Open triumph last month.

The Belarusian world number 100 was the more solid player throughout as an error-strewn display from the Bromley-based 18-year-old saw her crash out 6-2 6-4 in just one hour and 25 minutes.

Speaking during her on-court interview, Sasnovich said: “It’s very special. It’s the best tournament for me, it has the best food and the best people. I am really enjoying playing here.

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“I understood that I needed to come on to court and play my tennis and be 100 per cent. Emma has just won the US Open and I lost there in the first round! I just tried to do my best and came to enjoy it.”

On the prospect of taking on Simona Halep in round three after the Romanian saw off Marta Kostyuk 7-6 6-1, she added: “She’s a great champion. It will be an interesting match. Anyone can beat anyone.”

Raducanu, who was granted a wildcard for Indian Wells due to the fact the entry list was published prior to the US Open, arrived on court just 27 days on from her sensational victory at Flushing Meadows and kicked off with a love hold to suggest she was ready to pick up where she left off.

However, Sasnovich had other ideas and followed up a gritty hold from deuce by breaking to love, with a sumptuous lob the pick of her points.

Raducanu was struggling to work out her opponent’s game and looked a shadow of the player who produced such flawless tennis throughout her run in New York with 12 unforced errors blighting a disappointing opener for the Brit.

The 18-year-old was easily broken again in Game 7 and the Belarusian deservedly served out a one-sided first set on her second opportunity in just 30 minutes.

A lengthy opening game to Set 2 also went the way of Sasnovich but just as it seemed she looked certain to pull clear, the jitters set in with a pair of double faults.

Suddenly Raducanu had the momentum and she charged into a 4-2 lead, only to allow the lower ranked player to turn the tables once more with three games in a row. Sasnovich then served out the match to claim a famous victory.

The defeat could be a significant blow to Raducanu’s hopes of qualifying for the WTA Finals in Mexico and the teenager may well intensify her search for a full-time coach with Carlos Rodriguez, who coached Li Na to the 2014 Australian Open title, being touted as a potential frontrunner.

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'I am not going to cling to that' – Raducanu eyeing glory at Indian Wells

Emma Raducanu, 18, has her sights set firmly on more success after her US Open win.

The 18-year-old was a shock victor at Flushing Meadows last month after coming through qualifying, and now she is looking to make a big impact in the Californian desert.
Raducanu’s astonishing crown in New York saw her ranking leap from world no 150 to world no 22, and she still has a chance of qualifying for the WTA Finals in Mexico if she can shine at Indian Wells.

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The Brit, who has received a wild card for the prestigious tournament, had a first-round bye and is scheduled to face Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the second round. She could then be faced with a potentially intriguing clash with former world no 1, and one of her inspirations, Simona Halep.

The teenager currently sits 15th in the Race to the WTA Finals rankings, and is determined to taste further glory after her early achievement in New York.

“It’s great to reflect and have that so gradually it sort of sinks in,” Raducanu said. “I am just super proud of the achievement.

I am now looking forward. I am not going to cling on to that. I am still hungry for more.

Raducanu’s first challenge that awaits her on her return is 100th ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. She eased past María Camila Osorio Serrano in the first round 6-0, 6-4.

Prior to the tournament, Raducanu parted ways with British coach Andrew Richardson, who guided her incredible achievements in New York, after electing not to extend their short-term partnership.

While she will be aided by the Lawn Tennis Association’s national women’s coach Jeremy Bates at Indian Wells, this is also believed to be a partnership of convenience, and she is “not going to rush” the appointment of a permanent coach.

“Yeah, I don’t want to rush into anything making a decision because it’s a pretty big decision to make,” Raducanu said.

“I am looking for someone hopefully to add more to our experience at a high level because like I’m now twenty two in the world and it’s new to me, so I wish that I would have someone who had been there and experienced it.

“But yeah, my coach Andrew from the US Open was great and we had a lot of good times together. But I think for this next chapter, I just want someone with more experience.”

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Kim Clijsters out of Indian Wells after first-round defeat

Two-time champion Clijsters was knocked out of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells by Katerina Siniakova after her first appearance in ten years.

Siniakova saw off her opponent in a match ending 6-1, 2-6, 6-2, registering her first singles win since the first round of the US Open.

Clijsters, formally world no one, said: “Last week in Chicago, I started off well, but had a few games where I just really wasn’t into the match.

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“Here too, just looking for my rhythm, my anticipation again, reading my opponents, getting used to playing on a bigger court again, a lot of different things. I fought my way into the match well in that second set, and I kind of put her under pressure a little bit better.

I think overall, there’s definitely moments where I’m feeling really good out there, and there’s moments where I feel too inconsistent. That’s part of this process in general, it’s not going to be a smooth ride, and that’s what I’m going to try to improve every time I’m out there.

Current world no 53 Siniakova took advantage of key points in the game more than her Belgian opponent. Both players held nine break points, with Siniakova converting six of hers to Clijsters’ three.

After the match, Siniakova said: “It was really special, I was actually looking forward [to this], because I remember when I was young, and I was watching her play, and she always did amazing.

So it’s unbelievable I could stay with her on the court.

Siniakova will face another former world no 1 Angelique Kerber in the second round.

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Stephens fights back to beat Watson at Indian Wells

Sloane Stephens fought back from a set and a break down to beat Heather Watson 6-7(5) 7-5 6-1 to progress to the second round of Indian Wells.

Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, has struggled for form for much of the last three years and has fallen outside of the world’s top 50.

She possesses a curiously poor record against the Brit – Watson had won five of their seven meetings, with the pair having last met in the round of 64 at the Miami Masters in 2016.

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Both players traded breaks during an even first set with Stephens struggling to impose her aggressive game and a tie-break followed, with Watson narrowly securing the opening set 7-6 (5).

Stephens appeared to be in trouble when she dropped the opening game of the second set to love after three consecutive unforced errors were followed by a lovely cross-court backhand from Watson.

Yet Stephens broke back in a marathon second game that lasted 18 points, with the British player appearing to struggle physically in the California heat.

However, Watson dug deep and fought hard to cling on even as Stephens began to find her attacking range, thrice holding serve well in hard-fought games, but momentum had swung and Stephens claimed a decisive break in the twelfth to send the match to a decider.

The American had found her range as the match entered the third set, racing into a three-game advantage on the back of some fine hitting. And while Watson offered resistance in the fourth game – which ran to 20 points – Stephens secured the double break to put her on the cusp of the second round. She would eventually serve it out in the seventh game of the stanza.

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