We can wait three months to see if Paula Badosa’s Indian Wells championship translates to the 2022 Australian Open. After that Australian Open, the next big event on the WTA Tour will be the one Badosa just won on Sunday.
Yes, Indian Wells will be back in our lives before we know it. The tournament will return in its normal early-March slot next year. When Paula Badosa comes back to the Southern California desert to defend her title, we are all going to wonder what the future holds for her.
Right now, the present moment couldn’t be better — and not just for Badosa herself.
Women’s tennis, like Badosa, kept on winning this past fortnight.
Emma Raducanu lost her first match. Leylah Fernandez lost relatively early. There was no Naomi Osaka, no Ash Barty, no Aryna Sabalenka. Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina got taken out in the earlier stages of this tournament.
Only one player seeded higher than Badosa’s No. 21 made the semifinals (No. 12 Ons Jabeur).
Once again, the lack of a high-end rivalry, a familiar clash between players with major box-office drawing power, marked a WTA event. Once again, the players at the center of one event bore little resemblance to the main figures at the previous tournament of considerable significance (in this case, the U.S. Open in New York). WTA players didn’t carry their results from one showcase to the next.
All these details would suggest that this tournament fell flat. Yet, women’s tennis keeps defying expectations. The championship matches — from one big tournament to the next — are almost always dramatically different, but the quality continues to be high.
Raducanu and Fernandez played a very high-level women’s final on the East Coast of the United States one month ago. Roughly a three-hour drive from the West Coast of the U.S. — in the inland California desert — Badosa and Victoria Azarenka played a high-quality final on Sunday.
In a match filled with dramatic plot twists, ample resilience, supreme competitive investments from both sides, and a joyful sporting spirit, Badosa had the last word in a final-set tiebreaker. She beat Azarenka in a three-hour, four-minute match which rated as top-notch entertainment and another great advertisement for women’s tennis.
So what if there isn’t a traction-gaining rivalry in the sport? So what if the quarterfinalists, semifinalists, and finalists are regularly different on tour? Women’s tennis, like Paula Badosa, owns a prolonged winning streak and every reason to be immensely happy.
The fact that Indian Wells was played in October this year gave Sunday’s final the feel of a “last-big-battle” occasion in 2021. Badosa, thanks to her win, can still qualify for the year-end championships, but the larger point is that she and Azarenka treated this match as though there was tomorrow. In many ways, that wasn’t just a mindset; it was part of the calendar and the reality created by this adjusted placement on the 2021 schedule.
The faces were very different, but the quality remained the same. Paula Badosa owns the most prestigious title of her career to date, and women’s tennis — with its combination of supreme death and pronounced parity — continues to deliver a first-rate product to the viewing public.