Maria Sakkari’s eyes welled with tears and she sat in silence, with her head down, after defeating Paula Badosa, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, on Friday evening in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open. She had just accomplished something no one else had done at Indian Wells.
After being the second player, after Martina Navratilova, to win her first 10 matches here, Badosa was finally beaten. The 2021 BNP Paribas Open champion lost her serve six times against Sakkari and walked off the court following the loss with tears in her eyes.
The outcome was emotional for both players. For Badosa, it was because she finally lost, falling just short of becoming the first woman since Navratilova 31 years ago to repeat as champion here. For Sakkari, she was emotional because this will be the biggest final of her career di lei.
“I worked my entire life to get to the late stage of tournaments,” said Sakkari, the sixth seed in the draw. “I know it looks a little bit, maybe, silly, to some. It’s not like I won the tournament; I’m in the final. But it means a lot to me. “
The Greek tennis star will face rising star Iga Świątek of Poland for the BNP Paribas Open title Sunday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Świątek beat Romania’s Simona Halep in Friday’s other semifinal.
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Sakkari won the first set decisively with her return game. It had to be one of the best sets of her career di lei, given the stage and what was at stake.
Badosa regrouped to win the second set.
“I took my foot off the gas in the second set,” Sakkari said. “Obviously, she started playing a lot better. She was more solid. But I’m very proud with the way I came back in the third set.”
Badosa, the fifth seed, had a chance to take the third set but couldn’t hold her serve. After falling behind a break, Badosa won a break point and served to even the score. But after losing her serve three times in the first set, she lost her serve again and Sakkari went up a break before holding serve to go up 4-1. She went up a double break and then served out the match.
“She really deserved it,” Badosa said of Sakkari. “I thought she played a really good match. I didn’t play my best tennis today. But credit to her because it was her fault di lei that maybe I didn’t play as well as I wanted.”
It was clear how important this match was to Sakkari. She looked poised the entire match, and her shouts di lei after big points could be heard well above the cheering of the crowd inside Stadium 1.
Though Badosa won the second set, for the first time at Indian Wells it wasn’t her night. She showed some fight at points throughout the match, but she wasn’t consistent and played defensive for most of the match. It wasn’t the Badosa who seemed more comfortable and confident on this Stadium Court than any other player in the draw.
“I was very concerned before the match,” Sakkari said, “because Paula is playing very different than the other girls. She has a very good game. She obviously loves this tournament because she won this tournament (five) months ago. I just had to have faith and I believed in myself every single moment. I’m just speechless right now. “
Sakkari has played in three tournament finals but has one just one during her career. She won the Rabat Grand Prix in Morocco. Indian Wells will be the biggest final of her career of hers.