Top 5 WTA Indian Wells matches

andrewhendrie in Features 16 Mar 2020
Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka after their 2019 Indian Wells R2 clash (Photo by Mal Taam/CSM/Sipa USA)

We’ve been lucky enough to witness a number of classic WTA matches at Indian Wells over the years – read on below as we pick out five of the very best!

See also: Top 5 ATP Indian Wells matches

1. 1999: ?? Serena Williams def. ?? Steffi Graf 6-3 3-6 7-5 (Final)

We didn’t know it at the time, but when Steffi Graf and Serena Williams took to court for the 1999 Indian Wells final, we were watching arguably the two greatest tennis players of all time battle it out at opposite ends of their respective careers.

Graf was only months away from winning what was a then-record 22nd major title in the Open Era at Roland Garros, while Serena was a relatively fresh-faced figure on tour, 17 years of age and showing signs of being a great herself. Graf got a personal taste of what the future of tennis would be confronted with for over the next two decades, with Serena already showcasing her trademark raw power and ferocious serving to carve out a brilliant three-set triumph, coming back from 2-4 down in the deciding set.

“I definitely think in the next couple of months I’ll be in the top 10,” Serena said after the final.

Little did we know that Serena would ultimately pass Graf’s major singles title count, winning her 23rd Grand Slam crown at the 2017 Australian Open while three months pregnant.

2. 2017: ?? Elena Vesnina def. ?? Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-7(6) 7-5 6-4 (Final)

One of the most surprising and remarkable title runs in recent memory. In an all-Russian final at Indian Wells in 2017, Elena Vesnina completed a fairytale tournament, overcoming two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in a gruelling showdown, prevailing 6-7(6) 7-5 6-4 in over three hours.

After losing the opening set in 71 minutes in a tiebreak, Vesnina staged incredible comebacks in the next two sets, recovering from 1-4 down in the second and 2-4 down in the decider to secure the first Premier Mandatory title of her career.

Vesnina had lost in the first round of Indian Wells qualifying 12 months prior. The pair combined for the longest women’s Indian Wells final in terms of games at 35, eclipsing the previous record held by Serena and Graf from 1999.

“I won the title, and this sounds like a miracle for everybody, for you guys, for me, for, I think, all the girls out there,” Vesnina said.

“I think nobody could pick me at the beginning of the tournament that I could win this title. Me, also. I couldn’t pick myself!”

3. 1993: ?? Mary Joe Fernandez def. ?? Amanda Coetzer 3-6 6-1 7-6(6) (Final)

On a four-match losing streak in finals and without a title in 28 months, Mary Joe Fernandez would have been forgiven for thinking it wasn’t her day again after diminutive South African Amanda Coetzer held two match points in the deciding set of their 1993 Indian Wells final showdown.

However, Fernandez somehow survived at 15-40, 4-5 in the third set as Coetzer struck two balls agonisingly long of the lines, hitting a back just wide on the first and firing a lob narrowly over the baseline on the second. Fernandez fought back to force a deciding set tiebreak, where after missing two match points of her own, finally converted on her third chance to prevail in two hours and 42 minutes.

“No, I wasn’t too negative out there,” said Fernandez when asked if her 28-month title drought was on her mind. “I kept fighting. I never gave up.”

4. 1996: ?? Steffi Graf def. ?? Lindsay Davenport 6-7(6) 7-6(3) 6-4 (SFs)

After advancing to the semi-finals without dropping a set, things got a whole lot tougher for Steffi Graf, but that didn’t stop her from securing a second Indian Wells title. The German star needed two hours and 44 minutes to hold off the challenge of 10th seed Lindsay Davenport, coming back from a set down to come away with a 6-7(6) 7-6(3) 6-4 victory in the 1996 semi-finals.

Graf, who was struggling with a back injury, went on to dig out a 7-6(5) 7-5(5) win over Conchita Martinez in the final.

“Every match she plays, there is something wrong with her,” Davenport commented, “but even when she is so hurt, she always plays real well.”

5. 2019: ?? Serena Williams def. ?? Victoria Azarenka 7-5 6-3 (R2)

This might seem like an outlier on paper judging by the scoreline and round, but Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka put on a second round match for the ages at Indian Wells in 2019. Good friends and recently returned to the tour as mothers, Serena and Azarenka collided in a bruising baseline battle in the Californian desert. It was easily the best tennis Azarenka had played since making her comeback, while Serena also produced a level reminiscent of her dominant best.

Ultimately, it was Serena who prevailed by a 7-5 6-3 scoreline, hitting 39 winners to 45 unforced errors. Azarenka, defeated in straight sets, had a positive ratio of 25 winners to 24 unforced errors, highlighting just how well Serena played to come out on top in straights.

Both players knew they were involved in something special during the match.

“You can’t really enjoy it, because then you’ll lose focus,” Williams said. “You’ve got to kind of stay in the moment, you know. And it’s important to — like, sometimes you realize, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to be a classic.’ But you can’t let your mind go there, because you wouldn’t want to watch it in the future.”

“Serena pushes me to play my best tennis,” Azarenka said during her post-match press conference. “You know, she really won. She deserved to win. She played better on those important moments.”