• AFP-JIJI

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Paula Badosa demonstrated her mental toughness to claim the title in her Indian Wells debut with a hard-fought, three-set victory over two-time champion Victoria Azarenka on Sunday.

The Spaniard, who had not lost a set since her first match of the tournament, outmuscled Azarenka 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 7-6 (7-2) in 3 hours, four minutes.

“Every morning I wake up and my dream is to win a tournament like this,” Badosa said. “I have to keep working hard and always believe. The key is to enjoy the journey.”

Badosa won her only other WTA final earlier this season in Belgrade, but did it via a retirement over Ana Konjuh.

This one was sweeter because Badosa got to win the championship point on the court, hammering a forehand winner to the open side that Azarenka could only watch sail in.

Badosa celebrated the biggest win of her career by falling the court with both hands covering her face while the crowd cheered.

“This is a dream come true,” Badosa said during the post-match festivities on the court.

She then turned to Azarenka, saying “I remember when I was 14 or 15 years old seeing you win Grand Slams and hoping one day I can play like that.”

Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam winner, was trying to become the first three-time WTA winner in Indian Wells.

She battled back several times on Sunday, digging in after dropping the first set in a tightly-contested tiebreaker. But the 32-year-old Belarusian fell behind early in the final set tiebreaker and couldn’t recover.

Badosa got the first break of the match in the seventh game of the opening set, but Azarenka immediately broke back to even it at 4-4.

Azarenka used an ace to win the fifth game of the opening set and used another to set up the winning point in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead.

The first set took 1 hour, 20 minutes, including the tightly-contested tiebreaker.

Badosa jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but Azarenka clawed her way back to level it 5-5. An unforced error by Azarenka created set point and Badosa overpowered her with a blistering cross court forehand winner to end the marathon set.

Despite losing a grueling first set, Azarenka looked like the fresher player at the beginning of the second set.

Azarenka started coming into the net more, which shortened the rallies. Azarenka won the first three games of the second to set the tone and then served out the set with some solid placements and a few aces sprinkled in.

Azarenka smacked an ace to get to set point and then closed it out when Badosa hit a backhand long.

Azarenka held serve in the eighth game of the third set as the two painted the lines in one of the longest rallies of the match. Azarenka blasted a backhand winner down the line to level the set at 4-4.

Azarenka earned a break in the ninth game, but Badosa returned the favor in the very next game as the third set, like the entire match, went back and forth.

The tiebreak was pretty much all Badosa as the veteran Azarenka appeared to run out of gas, losing four of the final five points of the match.

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