When Indian Wells started two weeks ago, I wondered what the tournament would mean when it was moved from March to October. Instead of serving as a sneak preview of the season, it would serve as…what, exactly? If nothing else, it would be a much-needed big-money event for the women, at a time when many of the WTA’s other big-money events had been cancelled or moved. As far as individual players were concerned, the chatter mostly surrounded Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez. How would the breakout stars of the US Open follow up their Cinderella runs in New York?

Two weeks later, Raducanu and Fernandez are long gone. In their place we’ve seen a mix of new faces and former Grand Slam champs make surprising surges into the later rounds. And that’s the match-up—new face vs. former major champ—we’ll see when the 21st-seeded Badosa and the 27th-seeded Azarenka face each other on Sunday. Azarenka is 32 years old and has been No. 1 in the world, and she won this tournament in 2012 and 2016. Badosa is 23 and has been ranked as high as No. 26. Azarenka was in a major final, at the US Open, as recently as 2020, but Badosa had had the superior 2021, and she’s currently five spots higher in the rankings than Azarenka.

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Badosa hasn't dropped a set in her last four matches.

Badosa hasn't dropped a set in her last four matches. 

The two have never played, so it’s hard to know how each of their games will hold up against the other’s. Azarenka hits a little flatter, while Badosa uses more topspin, but otherwise they have similar styles. Both like to attack from the baseline, and both like to use their two-handed backhands as much as they do their forehands. In her wins over Jelena Ostepenko, Jessica Pegula, and Petra Kvitova, Azarenka has reached back to find some old form and fire. If anything, though, Badosa’s run has been more impressive; she has knocked off Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, Angelique Kerber, and Ons Jabeur without the loss of a set. Badosa, who has never been in a match this big, may be more nervous than Azarenka. But she also plays with more margin, and she hasn’t put a foot wrong yet in Indian Wells.

Winner: Badosa