Inside Tennis

2021 BNP Paribas Open

A Championship Unlike Any Other Before

By: Chris Lewis

Held for the first time since 2019, this year’s BNP Paribas Open showcased the talents of tennis’s up-and-coming stars.

            There has never been a BNP Paribas Open quite like this year’s—and there will likely never be one like it again.

            Hosted in October for the first time in the tournament’s history, due to COVID-19, the 2021 BNP Paribas Open also provided fans two other “firsts”: the first British male singles champion and the first Spanish female singles champion.

            As the talents of two of the game’s potential future stars were shown to the world, the tournament also provided brilliant displays of tennis from professionals that have already proven to be formidable forces at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the past.

            Simply put, the historic fall version of the BNP Paribas Open provided something for everyone, as tennis’s “fifth major” certainly made a worthy comeback after a 31-month hiatus.

Cameron Norrie Captures First ATP Masters 1000 Title

            No one has appeared in more finals this year than Cameron Norrie, who was finally rewarded for his hard work and consistency with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 singles victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili, leading to a considerable rise in the world rankings the last few months—from 71st early this year to the top 20.

            As a result, he has become the highest ranked British player in men’s tennis, surpassing Daniel Evans, while also winning a personal-best 47 matches for the year. Earning his first-ever ATP Masters 1000 title, Norrie also made history as the first British player to win a title of any kind at the BNP Paribas Open.

            “It means so much, I can’t even describe it,” Norrie said shortly after his victory. “It’s absolutely massive for me and my team. I can’t really believe it. If you would have told me I would have won before the tournament started, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s amazing. I’m taking in all the emotions.”

            Norrie, who is 2-4 in finals this year (only Novak Djokovic has appeared in as many finals this season), continued, “I’ve really been enjoying my tennis. I’ve lost a lot of finals, so it’s nice to get the big one today.”

            Facundo Lugones, Norrie’s coach, wasn’t surprised by his performance in the slightest, believing his talents are limitless.

            “He always had a bigger vision and woke up the next day and brought 120 percent, regardless [of] what happened the day before. When you have someone with that ability, there’s no limits,” he emphasized.

Paula Badosa Proves that Nothing is Impossible

            Within the first 20 minutes of Paula Badosa’s and Victoria Azarenka’s women’s singles final match, fans knew they were witnessing something special. After all, only three games had been completed by then. One hour later, the first set was finally finished, as Badosa led 7-6(5).

            Azarenka, a two-time BNP Paribas Open champion, made a comeback though, as she won the next set 6-2, proving yet again why she is a two-time major champion as well. As the temperatures continued to climb (rising to nearly 90℉), the drama increased too, as both players went back and forth until Badosa ultimately prevailed in the final set 7-6(2), winning the longest recorded women’s final in BNP Paribas Open history (3 hours and 4 minutes).

            To reach this stage and capture one of tennis’s most renowned tournaments, Badosa had overcome a variety of personal issues off the court.

            “There were moments when I thought I would never make it here. I suffered a lot, and I had to work on it a lot,” she said. “Everybody was in a hurry, and I think I struggled a lot from the expectations, that by 20 or 21 you should be winning big tournaments.”

            Now ranked within the top 15 of the world rankings (a climb from No. 70 in late 2020), Badosa has proven that hard work and self-belief truly pay dividends.

            “I’ve learned that nothing is impossible. In my case, I have been through tough moments, [but] I never stopped dreaming,” she stressed. “That’s what kept me working hard and believing until the last moment.”

Doubles Championships Feature Seasoned Winners

            For nearly 1.5 hours, John Peers and Filip Polasek and Aslan Karatsev and Andrey Rublev provided fans thrilling tennis action, as Peers and Polasek ultimately captured the men’s doubles championship 6-3, 7-6(5).

            “I’m really happy with the way we played,” Polasek stated. “We came here early, which helped us adapt to the conditions. It was very different to play in the day than in the night sessions. We were probably able to adapt the best of all teams.”

            With the victory, Peers captured his fourth ATP Masters 1000 title, along with his 25th career title, while Polasek acquired his second ATP Masters 1000 title and 16th career title.

            Meanwhile, Elise Mertens won her second consecutive BNP Paribas Open women’s doubles title, although she had a different partner this year than in 2019—Su-wei Hsieh, a three-time champion now.

            Defeating Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Rybakina 7-6(1), 6-3, Mertens captured her 14th WTA doubles title, while Hsieh won her 30th WTA doubles title. 

            “It’s really fun to play with different partners,” said Hsieh, who has won two of the eight tournaments in which she’s partnered with Mertens so far. “I collect a lot of friends.”

            “We are really, really happy with the win,” Mertens added. “And [we] qualified for the [Akron WTA] Finals, so [we’re] very happy [about] that too.”