In 2016, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams faced off for the title in Indian Wells, their first final against each other in two years.
After a lengthy boycott that lasted more than a decade, Serena Williams made a return to one of the WTA Tour’s most prestigious events, the BNP Paribas Open, in 2015 and advanced to the semifinals.
Seeded No. 1 at the 2016 edition, Williams advanced to the title match without dropping a set over her first five matches. Awaiting her in the final was her friendly rival, Victoria Azarenka. After two years of struggling with injuries, the Belarussian had been on a tear in 2016, winning nine straight matches to open the year. That run included a title in Brisbane and a quarterfinal finish at the Australian Open.
Azarenka, seeded 13th, took advantage of the upsets of Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza—the second- and fourth-seeded players—in the bottom half of the draw to reach her biggest final in nearly three years.
In the battle between former champions at the tournament, it was Azarenka who struck first, breaking serve early to take a 2-0 lead. Williams had an opportunity to get back on serve late, earning multiple break points with Azarenka leading 4-3. The world No. 15 held them off and maintained her advantage as she closed out the set 6-4.
In the second, Azarenka broke Williams serve right off the bat, held, then broke again to take a 3-0 lead. She eventually took a 5-1 lead, but as Williams has shown countless times, she can’t be counted out, no matter the scoreline. She recovered one of the breaks to get it to 5-4, but Azarenka managed to hold and clinch the title, her second of 2016.
With the win, Azarenka re-entered the top 10 and perhaps more impressively, became the first player to beat Williams in a final four times.
Azarenka’s quarterfinal win over Magdalena Rybarikova was the second time in the young 2016 season she didn’t surrender a game, with her other 6-0, 6-0 victory coming against Alison Van Uytvanck in the first round of the Australian Open.
Of Azarenka’s four career wins against Williams, this was the second she won in straight sets. The other came in the 2009 Miami final.
Williams’ last final loss in a Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 final was in Miami 2013. The winner that day? Azarenka.
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