WTA Indian Wells Final Preview: Serena Williams - Victoria Azarenka

Top seed Serena Williams will play 13th seed Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Premier Mandatory level BNP Paribas Open, held on hard courts at Indian Wells, California.

Recent Results

Williams has won 11 of the 12 matches she's contested this year, losing only to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open final. After accounting for the reigning champion and world number five Simona Halep 6-4, 6-3 in the last eight, the American was hard pressed to subdue the tenacious world number three Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 7-6 (1) in the semifinals.

Azarenka has performed even better than Williams this year, winning 15 of the 16 matches she's contested. The Belarusian won the title in Brisbane before also losing to Kerber at the Australian Open.

Despite avoiding top ten players this week, the current world number 15 has struggled at times against big servers, losing sets to Samantha Stosur and Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round and semifinal respectively. In the latter, Azarenka had to weather 17 aces from her opponent before prevailing 7-6(1), 1-6, 6-2.

Williams prepares for a forehand. Source: Getty Images/Julian Finney

Past Experience

The world number one has only lost one main draw match at Indian Wells, against Mary Pierce back in the quarterfinals of 2000. Williams has won this event twice before; in 1999 and 2001, though she boycotted the tournament for 14 years due to the controversy surrounding her latter victory. Looking for her 70th career title, the 34-year-old has only lost 18 finals in contrast and has 22 Premier Mandatory/Premier Five level titles (formerly known as Tier One tournaments through 2008) to her name.

Azarenka also boasts a winning record in finals, though only marginally with 18 wins compared to 16 losses. The 26-year-old has won seven Premier Mandatory/Premier Five level titles, including Indian Wells in 2012 but hasn't played a final this big since the Australian Open in 2013. Regardless of the result, based on her third round loss to Maria Sharapova here last year, Azarenka will make a significant move towards getting back inside the top 10 after several troublesome years with injury.

A glimpse of Azarenka's famed fiery temper. Source: Getty Images/Harry How

Head-to Head

Though arguably the most compelling rivalry on the WTA tour, Williams dominates the head-to-head 17-3 and has won their last five meetings. Despite the losses, Azarenka pushed Williams to three sets in four of those matches and even held three consecutive match points on the clay in Madrid last year.

Williams often struggles to get a good start against Azarenka, losing the first set at both the French Open and Wimbledon last year. The 21-time Grand Slam champion often has to play her very best to eventually subdue her intense opposition; a level that she hasn't yet consistently produced at this tournament thus far.

In order to win, Azarenka must make the most of her recently improved serve and move to the best of her ability. In beating Williams at Doha and Cincinnati in 2013, the former world number one returned superbly and never let her head drop, even when things looked bad. Twice an Australian Open champion, Azarenka is one of very few people to relish the challenge of playing Williams and always leaves the court having given everything.

Unfortunately, Azarenka has a habit of letting Williams off the hook as her serve tends to come under increasing scrutiny. It was three successive double faults that undermined the Belarusian in Madrid last year and in eight three setters played, the American has won on six occasions.

Though Azarenka is looking like she's back to her best and has three victories against Williams on a hard court, the world number one will probably prove too strong once again as though Azarenka is more than a match from the baseline, Williams serves and moves so much better.

Prediction: Williams in three sets