INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Victoria Azarenka defeated error-prone Serena Williams 6-4, 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, returning Azarenka to the world’s top 10 for the first time since August 2014.
Clearly the crowd favorite, Williams gave fans little to cheer about on a 91-degree (32 C) day in the California desert while making 33 unforced errors. After getting broken to trail 3-0 in the second set, Williams returned to her seat and smashed her racket.
Trailing 5-1, Williams won three straight games and held two break points on Azarenka’s serve in the last game. But Williams ended the match with three straight errors.
It was Azarenka’s first victory over the top-ranked Williams since the Cincinnati final in August 2013. She will move up seven spots to No. 8 in the WTA Tour rankings Monday.
Azarenka, who won here in 2012, hit just 10 winners and had 20 unforced errors in the 2-hour match. She connected on 60 percent of her first serves and broke Williams’ serve three times. Williams converted just 1 of 12 break chances.
Williams was back at Indian Wells after ending her 14-year boycott last year, and the crowd, including Queen Latifah, was eager to support her. One fan held up a sign reading, “Go Serena. We straight outta Compton,” in a nod to the gang-infested Los Angeles suburb where the Williams sisters learned to play tennis.
But there was none of Williams’ trademark fist-pumping and screams of “Come on!” She hit just 22 winners.
Azarenka and Williams met for the 21st time in their careers, with Williams now owning a 17-4 edge. The only player she has faced more in her career is older sister Venus, who watched grim-faced from a box after losing early in her return to Indian Wells for the first time since 2001.
Williams was bidding to become the first woman to win three titles at Indian Wells, where she won in 1999 and 2001. After getting booed heavily while beating Kim Clijsters for her last title here, she vowed never to return. That year the sisters were supposed to meet in a semifinal, but Venus withdrew shortly before the match with a knee injury. The crowd reacted harshly and their father Richard said he heard racial taunts.
Williams was warmly welcomed back last year only to withdraw with a knee injury before her semifinal.
She got emotional while accepting the runner-up trophy, tears welling in her eyes, after tournament officials thanked her and Venus for ending their boycotts.
“Thank you so much for the cheers,” Williams said. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”
Azarenka was gracious in victory, thanking Williams for her hard work that motivated the Belarussian to raise her game.
Williams playfully stuck out her tongue as she walked past Azarenka posing with the winner’s crystal trophy on her way off the court.