In one of the biggest surprises of the year, current world number 18 Elena Vesnina claimed the biggest trophy of her career at the BNP Paribas Open. Coming into Indian Wells unheralded as the 14th seed, Vesnina had the best week of her singles career as she shocked the whole tennis world by serving up an offensive masterclass throughout the fortnight.
A tricky path to the title
Why would it be such a huge surprise that such a talent like Vesnina won the title? The Russian was ranked outside the top-100 back in March 2016, although she had cracked the top twenty by Indian Wells. Furthermore, she was handed an extremely tough draw and had not been in the best of form coming into the first Premier Mandatory event of the year.
Vesnina received a bye into the second round due to being seeded, but she was given the worst possible draw having to face her nemesis Shelby Rogers in her first match. Being 0-2 against the American in their previous encounters, the Russian looked on course for yet another early exit, especially when Rogers was playing in front of a supportive home crowd. Unexpectedly, Vesnina triumphed in a tight 6-4, 7-5 match and progressed to the third round.
The draw only got tougher as the week progressed as Vesnina went up against Timea Babos next. Playing a similar style of tennis, Babos entered Indian Wells having won a WTA title in Budapest and was riding a six-match winning streak. Recovering from a break down in the final set, Vesnina overcame a heat-related illness and prevailed over the in-form Hungarian in three tough sets.
Facing the world number two Angelique Kerber (who returned to number one after the tournament), Vesnina came in as the huge underdog but many fancied her chances of producing the upset. The Russian put in a solid performance, ousting the German in straight sets after just an hour and 24 minutes of play.
Another excellent win over the legendary Venus Williams soon ensued. Vesnina was able to reflect her tough mentality when she rebounded back from a mid-match wobble and kept the home crowd silent on Stadium 1 after grabbing the unexpected win over home favourite in three sets.
The semifinals featured a clash of the underdogs with surprise semifinalists Kristina Mladenovic and Vesnina going head to head. The Russian came into the encounter firing and started the match well, taking an early 5-0 lead which eventually brought her the confidence to clinch a straight-sets win and sealed a spot in the final.
In what would be the biggest final Vesnina have ever been part of, she played a high-quality first set with compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova which ironically ended on a dead net-cord, giving her higher-ranked opponent the first set 7-6 after more than an hour. Falling behind 1-4 in the second set, the match seemed to be all but over, but an adrenaline rush saw Vesnina claim six of the next eight games to send the final into a decider. Her unforced errors seemed to dig her own grave, but it was also her risky offensive play which saved her from the brink as she came from a 2-4 deficit in the final set to triumph after a marathon three-hours.
Vesnina’s triumph came as a huge shock, especially considering the calibre of the players she faced. Beating a nemesis, in-form player, world number two, living legend, another in-form player and a higher-ranked compatriot in succession seemed to be impossible, but the Russian was able to complete the cinderella run.
Aftermath: Vesnina fails to back up her success
After winning the biggest title of her career, Vesnina has since failed to follow up on her success. The BNP Paribas Open was ultimately the Russian’s last quarterfinal appearance of the year and it was the only tournament this year where Vesnina managed to earn a top-10 win. She only claimed one top-20 victory throughout the rest of 2017 and she also ended the year on a five-match losing streak. Furthermore, 45 percent of her ranking points were earned in Indian Wells. Without this title, Vesnina would have ended the year outside the top-40. Therefore, the Russian will have to put up yet another incredible performance if she were to defend most of her points next year.