Sunday’s match is a place Victoria Azarenka has been working tirelessly to return to. For her opponent, No. 1 Serena Williams, it’s a spot she thought she would never return to.
Azarenka, a former No. 1, takes on the current No. 1 Williams when they meet in the BNP Paribas Open championship match.
By returning to Indian Wells final, Williams becomes the first American to reach this stage since 2005 (Davenport). Williams is also the last American to win the title, when she captured her second Indian Wells crown in 2001.
Following her last title, Williams did not play the event for 14 years, until last year, when she reached the semifinals before withdrawing with a leg injury. Returning to the finals had a surreal feeling for Williams.
“[I] definitely didn’t think I would be in another final here ever,” Williams said. “Then last year just really, really bad luck. I felt devastated that I wasn’t in the final or at least even being able to play.
“I think it’s kind of cool that I can really close the door by being in the final again. I think it’s something that really kind of came full circle.”
In her return, Williams was showered with an overwhelming amount of positive support, bring out emotional moments. But there was also some trepidation early in her return.
Told she was the last American to reach the finals at the BNP Paribas Open, she responded, “Go USA!” and pumped her fist.
Later in the press conference, when someone suggest it was good to be the grandmother of the draw at 34 years of age, Williams joked, “Great grandma.”
Williams will have a difficult opponent in Azarenka, who is starting to regain her form from 2012-’13, when she was No. 1 and reached four major finals in a two-year period, winning two Australian Open titles.
Although Williams leads the series against Azarenka 17-3, many of the matches have been close. Their last three matches have gone three sets.
“I’m definitely more confident,” Azarenka said. “As I’ve said, confidence for me doesn’t come from results, but knowing that I’m prepared, knowing I’m doing everything to put myself in the best position. That’s what brings me confidence.”
Two of Azarenka’s victories came against Williams in 2013, when she was at the top of her game. But foot and knee injuries sidelined her for most of 2014. Slowly, Azarenka has been regaining her form.
While Azarenka is physically working to get back, she feels mentally, she’s still strong. That is what has been the difference between her and other players on the tour when they play Williams.
“I see a lot of them losing before they step on the court,” Azarenka said. “I’m not afraid of anyone. I want to have those challenges. Some people might want to avoid that. I live for those moments.”