INDIAN WELLS, California. – In the usual March dates, BNP Paribas Open has been a launching pad for big talent in recent years.

Naomi Osaka won the title in 2018 and then won the US Open upsetting Serena Williams in the final. Bianca Andreescu won the title in 2019 and did the same.

Time will tell for 27th-ranked Paula Badosa, who won her first top-level title on Sunday with a 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (2) win over Victoria Azarenka in a final that required three hours and four minutes of effort and resilience at temperatures approaching 90 degrees.

At the age of 23, Badosa is older than Osaka or Andreescu when they were in their advancement at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. But she was once a teenage miracle herself and is now doing justice to her talent. On Monday, she will enter the top 20 for the first time at number 13.

Badosa was born in New York where her Spanish parents lived and worked, but the family soon moved to Spain where she started playing tennis.

She was identified early as someone with the desire and talent to become the next great Spanish women player after Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Conchita Martinez and Garbiñe Muguruza.

She played her first professional satellite tour at the age of 14, won two rounds at the Miami Open as a wild card applicant at the age of 17 in 2015, and won the small French Open title later that year. But she struggled with expectations and the tournament, going through a complete depression that left her struggling to get out of bed, let alone train for competition.

Badosa sought professional help and found a new coach who helped improve her game and rebuild her confidence, and in January 2019, she qualified for her first Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open.

She has chosen to be open about her mental health issues, recording a video in 2019 that recounted her journey. But its rise to the elite began in earnest after a five-month hiatus of professional tours forced by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Badosa reached the fourth round of the French Open, which was postponed from spring to October, and after strong preparation in her off-season she was ready to do well at this year’s Australian Open only to end up, like Azarenka, in difficult quarantine after the charter flight to Melbourne.

Both players ended up losing in the first round, but Badosa went on to have a great season: winning her first WTA Tour title in Belgrade in May and then following him to a quarter-final race in the French Open, round the fourth Wimbledon and the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics.

At 5-foot-11, she has physical presence and great power in her service, forward and with two hands behind. But she is also a natural driver, capable of hitting corners from the corner and following the point shots that the cunning Ons Jabeur tried against her in the semifinals on Friday.

Azarenka presented a very different challenge. While Jabeur relies on spin and sudden pace changes, Azarenka is a straight-line player in the most dangerous when she can take a full cut on a turn or enter the field and find a sharp angle with the kick its best: handed back. It is also very effective in networking, where it often flourished on Sunday.

A former No. 1, Azarenka has not had her best season in 2021. But she is in her most dangerous place on the hard courts, and Indian Wells has long been one of her top spots. happy hunting.

There are no major tours in Belarus, Azarenka’s hometown. But this arid part of the United States is an area that also feels at home. After leaving her hometown of Minsk to find better training opportunities, she lived in Arizona as a teenager and later bought a home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., In the Los Angeles area.

She won the Indian Wells bachelor title in 2012 and 2016, the year in which she seemed poised to resume dominating the women’s game. Instead, she became pregnant with her son Leo and left the tour for almost a year. Upon her return, she was unable to compete consistently and was unable to leave California on a stage due to a lengthy custody battle with her ex-boyfriend Billy McKeague.

But she has still achieved some high marks: above all her run in the US Open final last year. And she is still one of the cleanest ball strikers and best converts in the women’s game.

“If I saw you many times,” Badosa told 32-year-old Azarenka at the post-match ceremony on Sunday. “I remember telling my coach I hoped one day to play like her.”

“Thank you for inspiring me so much,” Badosa added. “I would not be here without you.”

Azarenka was close, very close, on Sunday to becoming the first three-time female singles champion in Indian Wells. After losing the first set at temperatures approaching 90 degrees, it roared again to win the second set as Badosa struggled to produce the same consistency from base to base.

Azarenka released positive energy throughout the match, pumping her fist and moving deliberately between points. Although Badosa took a 2-0 lead in the final set, Azarenka did not waver. She fought at 2-2 and then broke the Spaniard’s service at 4-4 for the opportunity to serve for the match.

At 30-0, Azarenka was just two points away from victory, but after nearly three hours of pursuing the title, she lost her way, making unforced errors in the next four points to lose her service and allow Badosa to returned to hunting at 5-5 Me

She did not miss the opportunity, taking command of the ensuing tiebreaker taking a quick 3-0 lead, breaking a first winner to extend the lead to 4-1 and then closing the game at her first point of championship with another first winner.

It was a final touch for Badosa’s biggest career victory, and she immediately threw the rocket, fell on the field and started crying, her hands covering her face.

“A dream come true,” she said as she thanked her support team and tournament director Tommy Haas after the victory.

“I know these have been very difficult times, so I appreciate everything you have done,” Badosa told Haas.

It has indeed been an unusual and challenging edition of this prestigious tournament, canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and postponed until October of this year. But even though women stars like Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams were absent and the crowds were significantly smaller than usual, the BNP Paribas Open 2021 had a finale worthy of the event’s hard-earned reputation.

If all goes according to plan, no guarantee in the coronavirus era, Badosa will defend its biggest title in just five months. The 2022 edition is scheduled to be played in its usual window from March 7 to 20.