Indian Wells: Azarenka returns to final, faces Badosa for title

  • Matt Trollope

Victoria Azarenka beat Jelena Ostapenko in a thrilling three-set semifinal to reach her third final at Indian Wells, where she will take on Spaniard Paula Badosa.

In a clash between Grand Slam champions, Azarenka recovered from 6-3 2-0 down to overcome the 2017 Roland Garros winner 3-6 6-3 7-5.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion who has also triumphed twice at Indian Wells, is one match win away from her first title in the Californian desert since 2016.

Trying to stop her will be the 27th-ranked Badosa, who dismissed No.12 seeed Ons Jabeur 6-3 6-3 in Friday night’s second semifinal to advance to the biggest final of her flourishing career. 

"It's an amazing feeling,” said Badosa, who finally put Jabeur away on her sixth match point. 

Paul Badosa celebrates her Indian Wells semifinal win over Ons Jabeur, a result sending her through to just the second, and biggest, WTA final of her career. (Getty Images)

“One year ago I was (ranked) 90 in the world. I think I won two matches in my life at a 1000 tournament. And now I'm in a final one year after, it's crazy, I still can't believe it.

"I think it's because I worked very hard. I never stopped believing. I passed through really tough times in my life, a depression, anxiety, when I was very young. And now being a final and having a dream come true like this, it's amazing."

Azarenka had to contend with Ostapenko’s sweet ball striking in the early stages of their match, and a barrage of winners helped the Latvian to a commanding position.

But Azarenka began returning with extra potency to take control of more rallies and benefitted from 59 Ostapenko unforced errors to complete an inspiring triumph in two hours and 20 minutes.

“I thought that the most important (thing) I would say today was my fight that I can be really proud of,” said Azarenka, who advances to her first final in 2021.

“My season’s been tricky. There were parts where I physically couldn’t necessarily bring that extra level, extra fight, which was very frustrating. And there were parts where I felt I was looking for something to add, and I didn’t necessarily know what it was. 

“I feel like right now I’m a bit more settled with a bit more structure and discipline, which makes it … a bit clearer what I need to do. So it doesn’t take extra energy on that, so I can focus my energy more on fighting for every ball.”

Fritz, Basilashvili into semis

Earlier in the day, Taylor Fritz staged a remarkable comeback to end the run of third seed Alexander Zverev, who entered the contest having won 19 of his previous 20 matches.

Fritz trailed 1-4 in the third set, and saved match points when behind 2-5 and 3-5, to eventually win 4-6 6-3 7-6(3).

No.2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas also exited the tournament, falling 6-4 2-6 6-4 to Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili.

It means that for the first time in 32 seasons of ATP Masters-level tournaments, all four semifinalists are ranked outside the top 25.

Fritz and Basilashvili, who will clash in Saturday’s second semifinal, joined Cameron Norrie and Grigor Dimitrov in the final four.

Fritz has enjoyed a terrific campaign at Indian Wells in 2021, having now beaten three top-10 seeds -- Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner and Zverev -- in succession.

His third-round triumph over Berrettini was his first top-10 win in two years, while his defeat of Zverev is his first ever against a player ranked in the top five. 

“This is the farthest I've ever been in a big tournament. It's easily the best win of my life, against a really tough opponent on arguably the biggest match I could possibly play. So it's great,” Fritz said.

“I just had the confidence to keep hitting my forehand, keep being aggressive. Whenever the chance to kind of make a play happened, I went for it. I felt good about it.”

Meanwhile, Tsitsipas is the highest-ranked player Basilashvili has ever beaten.

Appearing in his first ever ATP Masters quarterfinal, the result sees Basilashvili advance to a tournament semifinal for the first time in four months. 

“Surprised? Not really. I have been playing good tennis a long time on practices. I just couldn't, didn't have the kind of first serve. (But) I improved a lot my serve lately,” Basiliashvili said.

“I think that's why I'm in the semis now. In general, in the game, from the baseline I'm, physically as well, feeling really good, I'm playing good, feeling the ball really well.”

The men's semifinals will be played on Saturday at Indian Wells, with the women's and men's singles finals scheduled back-to-back on Sunday.