While much of the attention in Indian Wells, Calif. on Sunday circled around the comments made by Tournament Director and CEO Raymond Moore, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Victoria Azarenka defeated Serena Williams 6-4, 6-4 in the tournament’s final, a monumental victory for the Belarusian.
Three years ago, Azarenka was on the verge of being the most dominant player in the women’s game. She had won two straight Australian Open titles (2012 and 2013) and had reached the number one ranking in the world, before an array of injuries quickly put a halt to her dominance.
In the years since, Serena Williams has been a force on the women’s side, winning six of the 12 Grand Slam titles since Azarenka’s 2013 Australian Open victory, and a challenger to Serena’s reign at the top has yet to emerge.
But 2015 was an important year in Azarenka’s comeback. She stayed relatively healthy throughout the season and showed signs of the form that catapulted her to the top of the rankings.
Before Indian Wells, Azarenka spoke about her progress.
“Oh, I don’t think I am close to fulfilling my potential,” she said. “Just to see what I can do on practice court and physically what I can improve, I’m far from that. That’s what I’m looking forward to improve.”
And she showed her potential in Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open finals match against Serena. Azarenka outplayed Serena the whole match, and had a chance to serve it out up 5-2 in the second.
Serena would get one break back, and held serve to bring the second set to 4-5. She then went up 40-15 on Azarenka’s serve, and it looked as if Serena was putting together a comeback and Azarenka was embarking on a collapse.
The 2012 champion buckled down though, saving a couple of break points and holding serve to close out the match and win the title. Afterwards, she went over to hug her coaches in what was clearly an emotional victory.
Not only will the win put Azarenka back into the top 10, but it is a validation of the progress and hard work she has put in. The tour has been looking for a challenger to Serena at the top in recent years, could it be Azarenka?
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.