The upset bug at the 2014 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells was certainly not sexist; while the men’s draw was overwhelmed with top seeds falling throughout the event, the women’s side was equally unpredictable.
As with the men’s draw, half of the top ten seeds on the women’s side were gone by the fourth round and the event had seen the likes of defending champion Maria Sharapova and other top seeds Angelique Kerber, Sara Errani and Victoria Azarenka all fall victim to opponents ranked well below them. And yet, Indian Wells culminated yesterday with the two women playing the best tennis all week meeting for the championship.
On one side was Flavia Pennetta; seeded 20, the feisty Italian looked down and out in the quarterfinals against American Sloane Stevens before rallying to win in the third set. Then, Pennetta played brilliantly and overcame top seed Li Na in the semifinals, avenging a straight sets loss to Li in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open earlier this season.
On the other side was second seeded, Agnieszka Radwanska, who rolled into the finals having dropped just a single set. With her unique style, relentless defense, and extraordinary variety, Radwanska was looking to her fourth WTA Premier title.
Although the stage was set for an exciting final, the match proved to be one tarnished by injury. After the first set was won 6-2 by a dominant Pennetta, Radwanska began to struggle with a knee injury that has intermittently caused her problems since the Australian Open. After calling for the trainer and receiving medical treatment multiple times, Radwanska’s movement was severely limited and she was simply unable to compete, winning just one game the rest of the way.
As with the men, Indian Wells has historically been dominated by the top WTA stars; since 2000, the top seed has won the event five times and twice the second seed has claimed the crown. In fact, Pennetta’s win was the first for a player seeded outside the top ten at Indian Wells since 2007. Although the win for Pennetta broke a recent string of top seeds success in the desert, she was consistently the best player throughout the tournament and the title was a well-deserved culmination for the Italian.
Despite the injury that brought Radwanska to tears during the second set and post-match, the grit and determination she displayed throughout is what makes her one of the top competitors and most entertaining women to watch on the WTA tour. Unfortunately, Radwanska’s game is predicated on her movement and speed; similar to Nadal, Radwanska’s knee troubles may ultimately require a reevaluation of her playing schedule and a reduction in the number of events she participates in.
Meanwhile, Pennetta played the best tennis of her career at Indian Wells and will look to continue her success the rest of the season. One of the friendliest players on tour, Pennetta has an infectious smile and personality that makes her so easy to root for. The excitement and genuine happiness that was evident on her face as she celebrated the biggest win of her career was a delight to watch and has made her one of my absolute favorite players. Now 32 years old, the win was a defining moment of her professional career and hopefully she is able to continue her outstanding run of form throughout 2014.
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