In-form Badosa comes full circle

 - Chris Oddo

Spaniard sets sights on further glory at Roland-Garros, six years after her biggest moment as a junior.

Paula Badosa, Roland-Garros 2021 first round©️ Loïc Wacziak/FFT

From hot shot to longshot and back again, Spain’s Paula Badosa, the 2015 Roland-Garros girls singles champion, has a knack for announcing her arrivals in Paris.

But it hasn’t been a straight path to success for the 23-year-old. 

A few years after charging to the junior title in Paris in 2015, high expectations and the pressure to perform landed Badosa in a state of anxiety, as she struggled to quell the doubts that swirled in her head. 

“There was one moment when I felt this big shock, this realisation that I could become a professional, I could achieve my dreams, but it came with this fear that I couldn’t explain,” she said in a video released by La Liga sports in the summer of 2019. 

Nowadays, Badosa’s hard-won peace of mind is one of the key factors contributing to her breakout success. In 2020, just weeks after bringing in former ATP player Javier Marti as her coach, Badosa produced another rousing Paris performance when she stormed to the second week on her main draw debut.

It was a magical moment for a woman, having never played beyond the second round of a Slam before. Badosa logged wins over 2017 Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko and 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens, the result triggering a stellar follow-through. The Barcelona resident has since emerged as one of the most formidable clay-courters on the WTA Tour. 

“I think I improved on everything since last Roland-Garros,” Badosa said on Sunday after her 6-2, 7-6(3) first-round victory over American Lauren Davis. “I'm feeling good on and off court, so I think that's very important as well.”

Marti's motivation pays off

Badosa believes her chemisty with Marti, who is just six years older, is helping in multiple ways. It is his role as a motivator, however, which really stands out.

"He always says to me, 'You never know how you're gonna play, so you never know if you're gonna play better one day or another'," Badosa said. "He only says, 'Give your 100 per cent, that's the most important'. That's what I'm doing every day and I think that's why I'm improving like that."

That maximum effort has yielded a mind-blowing win rate in 2021. Badosa has been on fire this spring, going 14-2 on the clay with a victory over world No.1 Ashleigh Barty and three wins in four contests against top-20 players. 

Paula Badosa, Ashleigh Barty, Madrid 2021 semi-finals ©️ Antoine Couvercelle/FFT

Navratilova leads praise

The Spaniard's sizzling run of form has even caught the eye of two-time Roland-Garros champion Martina Navratilova

“She’s been a surprise,” the Hall of Famer wrote on the WTA’s website, mentioning her as a potential dark horse in Paris. “I saw her a couple of years ago. I thought, ‘Boy, she’s got the game, she’s got the look -  she’ll be a superstar if she starts winning'. She has that spunk and that athlete walk. No pressure, confidence – it’s a great place to be.” 

Her peers are taking notice as well. They rave about her ability to control the court with her powerful serve and aggressive groundstrokes. 

"She has a great serve, great forehand, great style of game for clay,” Croatia’s Ana Konjuh said after falling to Badosa in the Belgrade final this spring. 

“She’s a great player, a quality opponent,” Barty noted after falling to Badosa in Charleston in April, stressing: "She competes well.” 

Badosa's self-belief has blossomed on the clay, but it’s her ability to block out the expectations that come with being a highly touted talent that could lead to her next stunning result at Roland-Garros.

“I'm just focused on being better every day, on practising, on the things that I have to improve on court, off court, and not listening too much on the expectations or not paying attention on that," she said. "So I'm quite proud that I'm doing that and I'm doing it quite well."

Badosa next meets Montenegrin Danka Kovinic for a place in the third round on Wednesday.