A year ago at the BNP Paribas Open, Elena Vesnina lost in the first round of qualifying to wildcard Julia Boserup in straight sets.
This year, Vesnina defeated five seeded players, including three players who won a combined 11 Grand Slam singles titles.
One of those players was two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova as Vesnina rallied for a 6-7, 7-5, 6-4 victory Sunday in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open.
“Tennis is awesome, I can say,” Vesnina said. “I think that my example is the good kind of self-belief, good kind of vibe for all players. All other girls on the tour who think, ‘Oh, my God, this is the end of the world, end of my career,’ I lost first round of quallies, what can be worse than that?
“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.”
Vesnina was speaking with the BNP Paribas Open championship trophy during her press conference when she had a Oscars moment. The men’s final between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka was coming to an end and officials had to interrupt the press conference to take the trophy away.
Because it’s the only trophy, and they needed for the awards ceremony, it had to by whisked away.
But things got off to a bad start as she dropped the first set. Set point was determined on a net cord.
“It was such a heartbreaking moment for me,” Vesnina said. “I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, I was fighting so much. We played set for more than an hour, This is how it’s gonna end?'”
Kuznetsova capitalized on the momentum shift as Vesnina struggled with unforced errors. By the fifth game, Kuznetsova had a 4-1 lead and appeared headed to her first BNP Paribas Open title after two previous runner-up appearances.
“I just thought that I had to stop doing so many mistakes,” Vesnina said. “I have to stay a bit longer on the center cour. I was not thinking that I will win this match in that moment, to be honest. I was just thinking that I want to stay longer. I just want to fight. I don’t want to give it back so easy.”
After losing at the BNP Paribas Open, Vesnina began to turn things around in Miami, as she went through qualifying and reached the third round, beating Venus Williams along the way.
Vesnina built up enough momentum, and at the All England Club, she reached the semifinals of Wimbledon.
At this year’s tournament, Vesnina had several tough matches, including Shelby Rogers in the second round. Vesnina was winless against Rogers in two meetings.
“I think the turnaround of my tournament was when I beat Shelby Rogers,” Vesnina said.
The wins would only get bigger. Vesnina would Timea Babos in the third round, and then stun Angelique Kerber, who will be the No. 1-ranked player in the world on Monday. She followed that up by beating Venus Williams in the quarterfinals.
Prior to Sunday, Vesnina had a different kind of success at Indian Wells as she was a five-time doubles finalist, winning the title in 2008, ’11 and ’13.
But Sunday’s win was special in its own right.
“This means a lot. This is the biggest title for me in singles. Biggest title and the biggest final I ever played,” Vesnina said. “It’s going to take the big part in my heart.”