30-30: Williams nets forehand.
15-30: Azarenka double faults, going for big second serves.
15-15: Williams hits a big forehand winner.
15-0: Williams hits return long.
Azarenka hits forehand return long to give Williams the hold. Azarenka leading 3-2, up a break.
40-15: Williams serve un-returned by Azarenka.
30-15: Williams hits a huge, forehand passing shot, going into the splits after a huge winner.
15-15: Williams serve down the middle, un-returned by Azarenka.
0-15: Williams hits backhand long.
Azarenka holds for 3-1 courtesy of a Williams return clipping the net cord going wide.
40-0: Williams nets a backhand return.
30-0: Azarenka hits a big serve down the middle.
15-0: Williams hits a big forehand down the line return just wide.
Williams blasts an ace out wide to hold for 2-1, with the Belarusian leading.
40-0: Azarenka hits backhand long.
30-0: Williams blasts a big forehand cross-court winner.
15-0: Williams hits a second serve ace down the middle.
Azarenka holds courtesy of a long forehand return from Williams. Williams not happy with string tension.
40-30: Azarenka cracks a big ace down the middle.
30-30: Azarenka hits a big forehand approach winner.
15-30: Azarenka double faults.
15-15: Azarenka hits backhand wide.
15-0: Williams hits backhand return wide.
Azarenka breaks Williams off of a double fault from the American.
0-40: Williams nets a backhand off a deep return from Azarenka.
0-30: Williams double faults.
0-15: Williams nets a forehand.
Serena Williams won the toss and elected to serve.
Williams and Azarenka are both in top form coming into the final, setting us up for an incredible display of power tennis from two of the best players in the sport. Williams will need to bring all her intensity, fight, and fire power to win, and will need to look to attack the Azarenka serve at any chance. For the Belarusian, she will need to take any short balls and try to move into the net at any chance, forcing her American rival to go on the defensive. The biggest key to this match will be for the 2012 champion to serve exceptionally well and to not give Williams any chances to attack her serve. If the American comes out sluggish at first, Azarenka will pounce, but expect the world number one to summon all her fighting abbilities to capture her third title in the Californian desert.
With Williams and Azarenka being at the top of women's tennis for the past four years, the two have battled each other numerous times on the biggest stages of the sport. Though the American leads their head to head 17-3, Azarenka has consistently been the only player who can push Williams with big power strokes and a sound mental game, not intimidated by the task of playing the world number one. At Grand Slams, Williams leads the head to head 10-0, showing her prowess over the two-time Aussie Open winner on the bigger stages. In finals, the 21-time major winner leads as well 5-3 in title matches, but Azarenka has gotten close in numerous occassions. The two have never played in Indian Wells due to the American's boycott of the tournament for 14 years from 2001-2015, due to tumultous racial slurs and booing. On a court similar to the one in the California desert in Miami, Azarenka won the pair's only meeting there 6-3, 6-1 in the finals. Though the head to head might show a different story, both Williams and Azarenka know the player who can show better aggresivity and serving will take home the title. The two played three times in 2016, with Williams winning all the matchups in three sets. They first played in 2015 in Madrid, where the Belarusian held three match points, all of which she double faulted away to give the American the win 7-6 in the third. They also played twice last year in majors, at the French Open and Wimbledon, with the 21-time major champion winning both in three, difficult sets.
For Williams, it has been a disappointing year by the American's high standards so far, playing only one completed tournament up to this final. Williams was set to begin her year in Perth at the Hopman Cup, but was forced to retire due to a knee injury, one that had troubled her all the past year. A few weeks later at the Australian Open, Williams cruised through the first six matches, not dropping a set on the way to the final. Looking in superb fashion, Williams came up against the player who had beaten Azarenka in the last eight, Angelique Kerber. Kerber put together a brilliant display of agressive strokes with wall-like defense to stun the American in three sets to claim her first Grand Slam title. Williams most recently played an exhibition match at the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York, where she defeated good friend Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets.
With both players having been two of the biggest, brightest stars over the past four years, this is bound to be a heavy-weight matchup. Added into that, Williams and Azarenka have both had a terrific start to their year's, particulary for the Belarusian. The former world number one began her year looking for redemption from two years of pain and agony, coming out on fire in Brisbane, taking the title without dropping a set. With her name fully etched in as one of the favorites at the Australian Open, Azarenka crusied through the first four rounds, before coming up against a wall in the form of Angelique Kerber. Kerber, who had never beaten Azarenka, came out ready to go, and stunned the Belarusian, and most of the tennis world, knocking out the second favorite for the title in Melbourne. Azarenka has only played one tournament since that loss, the Abierto Mexicano Telcel, where she withdrew after her second round match with a left wrist injury.
In the quarterfinals, the Belarusian came up against Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova. With Azarenka's power locked in and Rybarikova looking hampered by a leg injury, the Belarusian took full advantage, taking the match 6-0, 6-0 to put the 2012 winner in the last four. In the semis, Azarenka faced big serving Czech Karolina Pliskova. Azarenka and Pliskova were both locked in early, with the set going to a tiebreak, which Azarenka took to gain a large advantage. The Czech fought back though, dominating Azarenka to force a decider. In the final set, the 2012 champion came up with the goods to take the set and the match to move into her second Indian Wells final.
On the bottom half of the draw, Victoria Azarenka had a much lighter route to the final then her American rival. Azarenka began her campaign dispatching Kazakh Zarina Diyas 6-3, 6-2 in routine fashion. In the next round, the 2012 Indian Wells champion made her way past Chinese wildcard Zhang Shuai 6-4, 6-3 to reach the round of 16. There in the fourth round, Azarenka came up against 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur. Azarenka dominated Stosur in the opening set, taking it 6-1. In the second set the Aussie fought back, before the former world number one closed it out 6-1 to reach the last eight.
In the round of 16, Williams cruised past Ukranian Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2, 6-2 to reach the last eight, as Williams showed her dominance throughout. In the quarterfinals, the world number one went up against last year's winner Simona Halep. The two were due to meet in the semis in 2015, but Williams' troublesome knee caused her to withdraw pre-match. The American brought her A-game, putting on a brilliant display of power tennis to reach the last four. In the last four, the 34-year-old came up against the player who will move up to world number two next week, Agnieszka Radwanska. Williams looked rattled at times, but eventually the American's resolve showed through to see her through to the title match 6-4, 7-6(1).
Williams began her Indian Wells run, breezing past German qualifier Laura Siegemund in straight sets in her opening match. In the third round, Williams fought off the challenge of young Kazakh Yulia Putintseva 7-6(2), 6-0 as the American battled herselfoften throughout the first set, committing many unforced errors.
World number one and two-time Indian Wells winner Serena Williams faces off against two-time major champion and 2012 Indian Wells champion Victoria Azarenka for the coveted BNP Paribas Open trophy. Both players have had to fight off difficult opponents and scratchy play at times, but Williams and Azarenka have proven why they're the best two women's players right now, as they go into battle for the Indian Wells title.
Welcome to live coverage of the BNP Paribas Open final! My name is Thomas Cluck, and I am happy to be bringing you point-by-point coverage of the BNP Paribas Open final here on VAVEL. From now until the match begins at 2:00 pm ET, news and notes will be above to get you up to speed. Be sure to return at match time for point-by-point updates!