(Reuters) -Paula Badosa survived a stiff challenge from Victoria Azarenka to produce a gutsy 7-6(5) 2-6 7-6(2) win in an epic Indian Wells championship match on Sunday.
Azarenka was two points from winning the tournament for a third time and serving at 5-4 in the decider when her game began to unravel behind a series of uncharacteristic errors.
Badosa took advantage of the shift in momentum and held her nerve in the final tiebreaker, firing a crosscourt forehand winner on championship point and falling to the court in joy at the end of the more than three-hour battle.
The 23-year-old Badosa praised WTA Tour veteran and two-time major champion Azarenka, who she said she had admired since she was a teenager.
“I remember saying to my coach that I hope one day I can play like her,” Badosa said after receiving the championship trophy.
“Thank you for inspiring me so much. Athletes like you and women like you, I wouldn’t be here without you. Really.”
Badosa also thanked her family in Spain for their support as she overcame injuries and mental health struggles in recent years to win the biggest title of her career.
“I know they are watching. I want to say thanks for helping me every day and getting me through the bad moment. This is a dream come true,” she said.
With the win, Badosa becomes the first Spanish woman to win the tournament in the California desert and will move to a career high world number 13 on Monday.
The tournament, which is sometimes called the fifth major, was not held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was pushed back from March to October this year due to the global health crisis.
“Very well deserved match. I had a lot of fun playing out here,” Azarenka said.
The Belarusian also praised the crowd, which backed her at key moments in the match.
“Thanks to all you guys for your support. It is really special to play in front of the crowd after such a long break.
“Thank you for all your energy this week.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Stephen Coates)