Spotlight: Paula Badosa

  • Matt Trollope

In less than a year, Spaniard Paula Badosa has gone from being barely ranked inside the top 100 to one of the sport’s hottest players. 

Following in the illustrious footsteps of countrywomen Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, Badosa is thriving on clay and on Sunday advanced to her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros. 

In a wide-open bottom half of the draw, many believe the 23-year-old has the game, and the form, to go even further. 

On court

Success at Roland Garros is perhaps unsurprising, given Badosa was a junior singles champion at the same venue in 2015.

But it was not until 2019 that she cracked the top 100, and she had to wait until 2020 to achieve her first Grand Slam main-draw victory, at the Australian Open.

Despite COVID-19 wreaking havoc with last year’s calendar, Badosa made significant progress when the sport resumed, beating major champions Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko to reach the fourth round at – where else? – Roland Garros.

Badosa carried that momentum into 2021, becoming one of the best performers on clay throughout the spring.

She beat world No.1 Ash Barty en route to the Charleston semifinals, backed that up with a semifinal run on home soil at the prestigious Madrid Open, then won her first career WTA title in Belgrade.

With Alison Riske’s Roland Garros withdrawal, Badosa was promoted to No.33 seed – the first time in her career she has been seeded at a major tournament.

Notable stats

Now ranked 35th, Badosa owns a tour-leading 17-2 record on clay in 2021 and, thanks to her fourth-round victory over Marketa Vondrousova, has built a nine-match winning streak ahead of her Roland Garros quarterfinal against world No.85 Tamara Zidansek. 

Off court

Badosa was born in New York – where her parents worked as models and later photographers in the fashion industry – and lived there until she was seven before the family returned to Spain.

Now based in Barcelona, she has inherited a love of fashion of her own, describing her style as simple, basic and casual.

Badosa revealed in a 2019 interview that the expectations accompanying her junior Grand Slam success were debilitating; she struggled with depression and anxiety and “lost the will to play tennis”.

Thanks to a coaching change up, a cap on social media time, a refusal to read what others write about her, and an acceptance that success may not come as quickly for her as it does her contemporaries, Badosa has discovered a better emotional balance.

X-factor

Maria Sharapova was Badosa’s tennis inspiration and the similarities between the two women are striking – as are their victory celebrations.

Maria Sharapova (L) celebrates her Roland Garros title in 2012, while Paula Badosa (R) reacts after reaching the semifinals on home soil at the 2021 Madrid Open. (Getty Images)

The resemblance has caught the eye of fans and commentators and Badosa herself has acknowledged this when asked about it.

Yet despite similar baseline power, aggressive instincts and physical stature – Badosa is almost six feet tall – there is a marked difference in the way they execute their shots. 

The heaviness in Badosa’s game, particularly the shape and topspin on her forehand wing, separates her from her Russian idol.

It goes some way to explaining the clay-court success she has enjoyed from the very beginning of her career.

She said…

After reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros: “I always thought that tennis is 80 per cent mental. Of course the racquet is important, how you play, it's very important. I think it's a little bit more important how you manage all the nerves in the important moments. I think when you're here, the mental thing, it's a little bit the key.”

On the reasons behind her improvement: “I think I improve a little bit on everything: mentally, physically, my tennis has change as well.  Every shot that I'm playing, I think I'm hitting it different since few months ago. I'm feeling more confidence. That, of course, helps. I think the most important that I'm improving day by day.”

Experts are saying…

“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.”
- Martina Navratilova