Indian Wells Final: (1) Serena Williams vs (13) Victoria Azarenka
Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open final will be a blockbuster encounter between two former champions at the event: Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. This will be the first match between the pair in 2016, Serena was pushed to a third set by Azarenka in all three of their matches in 2015 and probably remains the American’s biggest threat on tour at the moment and moving forward over the next couple of seasons. This will be a special occasion for Serena Williams, being back in the final at Indian Wells for the first time since that infamous 2001 final. Whilst Azarenka is into her first major final for a couple of years and will be pumped up for this occasion.
Serena Williams has generally been in impressive form on route to the final at the BNP Paribas Open, the American has not dropped a set and is looking as strong and aggressive as ever. Serena recorded convincing straight set wins over Laura Siegemund, Yulia Putintseva and Kateryna Bondarenko before stepping up her game to record two more straight set victories over fellow top 5 players Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska. Serena’s 6-4 7-6 semi-final win over Radwanska was a strange one, Serena started the match really poorly as she was uncharacteristically showing no emotion and seemed disinterested. However, Serena was clearly too good for Aga when it mattered most in both of the sets, Serena eventually got fired up in the second set and played some sublime, aggressive tennis in the second set tiebreak to book her spot in Sunday’s final.
Victoria Azarenka has also shown some impressive form on route to the final at the BNP Paribas Open. The Belarusian has still lost just one match in 2016 (A loss to Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open, Serena’s only loss this year was also against Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open). Azarenka started the event with routine wins over Zarina Diyas and Shuai Zhang before being forced to work much harder for a 3 set win over Sam Stosur. Azarenka thumped Magdalena Rybarikova 6-0 6-0 in the quarter-finals before overcoming her toughest challenge of the event in a three set win over Karolina Pliskova. Azarenka booked her spot in the final with a 7-6 1-6 6-2 win over the Czech. Azarenka looked very solid from the baseline, however her serve was an issue, ending the match with 10 double faults. Azarenka will need to serve much better on Sunday if she is to record a rare victory over Serena.
Serena Williams holds a commanding 17-3 head-to-head record over Victoria Azarenka, however, despite the lopsided head-to-head record it is possible to make a case for Azarenka being Serena’s greatest rival over the last couple of years. Azarenka has pushed Serena to a third set in 5 of their last 6 matches including all 3 of their matches in 2015. The Belarussian actually held leads for lengthy periods in each of their matches last year and squandered 3 match points in their first match of the year in Madrid. Their most recent clash was at Wimbledon last year, Serena won that match 3-6 6-2 6-3, on of the matches of the season.
This is an extremely important final for both ladies. Serena will be desperate to claim her first Indian Wells title since 2001 in her second appearance at the event since that year. Serena will not want to drop another final after her recent losses at the business end of Grand Slams. Whilst, Victoria Azarenka will be pumped up to be in her first final at a major event for years. I suspect Serena will make a statement in this match and win quite comfortably. Serena’s level this year has generally been very high and she will be primed for this final. Azarenka’s serve is likely to be a big problem in this match-up, whilst Serena is also capable of overpowering the Belarusian from the baseline. Serena must be wary of Azarenka after their matches in 2016 and will come out firing here. Serena for the win.