Victoria Azarenka recovered from a set and a break down to beat Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko and reach the Indian Wells Open final for the third time.
The Belarusian is seeking her first title of 2021, having last won a tournament at the Cincinnati Open in August of last year.
It’s been a difficult year for the 32-year-old, who is a two-time major winner but failed to reach beyond the fourth round of any of the Grand Slams.
But at this tournament, there has been a noticeable improvement in the former world number one’s game.
In particular, her first serve seems far more of a weapon. In her win against America’s Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals, Azarenka won 81 percent of points on first serve and broke her opponent five times.
And the Belarusian has recognised that her performances in California have been aided by a change in approach. Earlier this week, she stressed how she wished to be more aggressive in matches.
“I think the court coverage and taking maybe less shots to win the point, that’s something that is important for me to improve. I think on the baseline, counterattacking, having high intensity, that’s something that worked really well for me.
“I’m looking for things that I can implement that will make it a bit easier for me. I’m also not in the beginning of my career to grind every match. It’s not necessarily tougher physically, but from one match to another it adds up. I’m looking for how I can be more efficient as a player.”
Perhaps another reason for Azarenka’s resurgence this week is her love of this event. She has now won 33 matches at Indian Wells in her career –– the joint third most along with Caroline Wozniacki and behind Maria Sharapova (38) and Lindsay Davenport (47).
And if the two-time Australian Open winner emerges victorious tomorrow, she’ll become the first player to ever win the tournament three times, having won in 2012 and 2016.
Her valiant comeback against Ostapenko will no doubt give her confidence she can do just that. Speaking after her win against the Latvian, Azararenka praised her spirit that helped her get back in the match.
"I thought the most important thing was my fight, that I can be really proud of.
"Overall, she was playing incredible in the first set. I was just trying to find opportunities, create opportunities, for me to get back into the match, to take a little bit more control in the match, really fight for every ball."
Her opponent in the final will be Spain’s Paula Badosa, who defeated Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in straight sets.
Badosa is playing the tournament for the first time but has beaten the likes of Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejčíková, Angelique Kerber and now Jabeur to make it to this stage.
The Tunisian saved five match points, but the 21st seed eventually sealed the win after Jabeur hit a backhand wide.
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