CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)
Paula Badosa is the only player who contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus after arriving in Melbourne for the Australian Open earlier this year. It set off a chain of events she wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Now, healthy and stronger – and full of self-belief – the 71st-ranked Badosa of Spain is enjoying a winning week at the WTA 500 Volvo Car Open on green clay in Charleston, S.C. It’s believing in herself that helped earn Badosa a berth in Friday’s quarterfinals against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty – and, ultimately, in beating the top seed 6-4, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals on Saturday.
Badosa will face No. 15 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who ended the run of 2016 Volvo Car Open champion Sloane Stephens of the United States, 6-3, 6-4.
Rewinding, the 21 days in late January and early February that the 23-year-old Spaniard spent in strict, lockdown isolation in a Melbourne hotel room affected her, both physically and mentally. Badosa tried to find solace in practicing yoga and hitting shadow tennis swings, sometimes posting her routines on social media. She shared an Instagram Live chat with fellow pro and friend Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine as a means of coping and talking about her ordeal.
As she described in an interview for Tennis.com in early February, “I remember the first day when I heard the news, there were so many emotions,” she said. “I was so angry about everything because we didn’t know the rules, exactly, and we felt like they’d changed it.
“I wasn’t OK at first, but I accepted it and started to do things in the room. I was exercising and feeling good.”
— Tennis Handshakes (@TennisHandshake) March 31, 2021
However, Badosa’s health turned for the worse. About seven days into her initial quarantine, she began to feel a fever, chills and cough – the symptoms of COVID-19 – despite previously testing negative three times. Because she had come down with the coronavirus after landing in Australia, her quarantine would extend beyond the mandatory 14 days everyone else served.
“They told me it could have been from the plane, but I don’t think it could have been because it seems impossible that only one player would test positive on the plane,” Badosa told Tennis.com. “I was with Marta, playing cards and we were touching all of the same things. It had to have been in Abu Dhabi. It’s the only thing that makes sense for me.”
Badosa began her year playing in the WTA season-opening event in Abu Dhabi, where she reached the third round before losing to finalist Kudermetova. So, things initially looked promising for Badosa, who in her previous Grand Slam mounted a run to the round of 16 at Roland Garros, knocking out both a French Open finalist (Stephens) and a French Open champion (Jelena Ostapenko), following a semifinal finish on clay in Istanbul.
— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) February 3, 2021
Looking back on her Melbourne odyssey, Badosa is able laugh at some of the worst moments of her life – fighting anxiety and depression, taking cold showers to fend off panic attacks – and she remembers how once she gained her freedom, she and her coach, Javier Martí rushed to Melbourne Park at 1 a.m. to hit. The unorthodox time didn’t matter to Badosa. She just wanted to practice the sport she loves and so very dearly missed. If Badosa had to do it all over again, would she? “No,” she told Tennis.com. “If I knew this would happen, I would have stayed home, because the thing is how much shape I lost. It wasn’t worth it.”
Día duro para mí. Di todo lo que tenía y luché hasta el final. Toca recuperarse y volver a ponerse fuerte.
— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) February 9, 2021
Without the benefit of playing a warmup tournament like other players, Badosa promptly lost her first-round match in the Australian Open to Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-5, and went home to recover and practice instead of staying for the Grampians Trophy event, whose field included players that lost in the first two rounds of the Grand Slam.
“I had no energy. I went home to recover and train,” the New York-born Badosa, who lives and trains in Barcelona, recalled in an interview in early March. “It was tough the first couple of days, then I started to practice more than an hour a day and felt good.”
🔜 @Open6emeSensML semifinals
— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) March 5, 2021
A few weeks later, Badosa resurfaced at the Open 6ème Sens Métropole de Lyon in Lyon, France, where she mounted a nice run to the semifinals of the indoor hard-court tournament. It included a 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2 quarterfinal win over Kristina Mladenovic, which she called “a rollercoaster of a ride,” before losing to the tournament’s eventual winner Clara Tauson, 7-5, 6-1. Then, Badosa lost in the first round at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy (also indoors) and won a round at the Miami Open before arriving in Charleston.
This week, Badosa has strung together four straight wins on the green clay – showing plenty of mental toughness – to reach the Volvo Car Open semifinals. It’s improved her outlook following her first experience on playing on green clay in a 2016 ITF tournament, also in Charleston. Time seems to have healed Badosa, both off and on the court.
Got a little childhood revenge today. 😈@paulabadosa joins @Steve_Weissman to recap her impressive performance against Bencic in her first career appearance in Charleston. #VolvoCarOpen @FanDuel pic.twitter.com/EPTOHsIoUJ
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) April 7, 2021
“I’m really proud of this week because I’ve had some tough matches,” Badosa told Tennis TourTalk on Thursday. “The first one was really tough (against Russia’s Varvara Gracheva, which she won 3-6, 7-5, 6-1). I didn’t have a good feeling, but I fought until the last moment, so I could turn around the situation. The second one (against World No. 12 Belinda Bencic) I won my best career match. It’s amazing for me. Today, I’m happy I could play well. I dominated with the forehand; I thought that was the key to this match. So, I’m quite happy with my level this week.”
Great win today in Charleston. Ready for more! 🙂 pic.twitter.com/dLBnMnGjue
— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) April 7, 2021
Badosa, the 2015 Roland Garros junior girls’ champion, admitted during a virtual press conference with reporters that showing mental toughness is something that’s new to her. “I have to be honest, I recently learned to fight like that,” she said. “Before, I wasn’t accepting the bad moments. That’s very important in tennis to accept. Every match, you have good moments, bad moments, ups and downs. So, that was my problem a few years ago.
“Last year, I made a big change in my mental game. I started to work a lot on that, to fight every point no matter what. I’m very proud I’ve been able to turn a lot of matches around and I’m fighting for every point.”
Upset complete ✅👏
World No. 71 @paulabadosa stuns Bencic 6-2 6-7 6-1 earning her first victory over a top 20 player!
— Volvo Car Open (@VolvoCarOpen) April 7, 2021
Tennis TourTalk asked Badosa following her 6-3, 6-3 round of 16 win over Caty McNally of the United States, which improved her 2021 win-loss record to 9-5, about the challenge of facing Barty in the quarterfinal round of her first WTA 500 quarterfinal. And, whether or not she would worry about it or lose any sleep thinking about the late-Friday afternoon matchup on Althea Gibson Club Court against the tournament’s top seed.
“I don’t have words to describe Ash Barty,” admitted Badosa, who earlier this week took out Bencic, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-1, in the second round. “She’s a very good player. OK, I’m going to be honest: I want to play her because I’ve never played a World No. 1 and I want to see what it is like to play against a World No. 1.”
Through to the QF! 💨💨
— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) April 8, 2021
Badosa took advantage of her opportunities and maintained her composure during her 76-minute victory over Barty. She hit 19 winners, including seven aces, committed just 12 unforced errors and saved 12 of 14 break points she faced. Although Barty hit 34 winners, she committed 24 unforced errors and Badosa broke the Aussie’s serve five times in 10 tries. Badosa outpointed Barty 72-62. She’s the lowest-ranked opponent to beat Barty since 2019.
— wta (@WTA) April 9, 2021
During her on-court interview, after securing the biggest victory of her pro career, Badosa said: “I was quite nervous today but I think I served very well and I think that was the key for the match. It was a tough match but I was there until the last moment and I managed to win.”
During her post-match press conference, Barty gave due props to Badosa. “She’s a great player, a quality opponent. She competes well and I thought tonight she served exceptionally well. She controlled the center of the court [with her forehand] during the biggest moments.”
Now, following Badosa’s best win – her second against a Top 20 opponent this week – and achieving her first WTA 500 quarterfinal and semifinal, she’s in a good place both mentally and physically. She’s checking off a lot of milestones, which include reaching a new career-high ranking of at least No. 64 next Monday.
“I’m quite happy after having a rough time at the beginning of the season,” Badosa said. “I’ve worked very hard to get back on this level. I’m very happy that I’m here. I’m happy you can see all of my hard work is showing on the court.”
One thing’s certain: No matter what the outcome on the tennis court, Badosa will be there fighting hard from first point to last point – and believing in herself.
Around the Volvo Car Open
• Unseeded Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, ranked 91st, continued her string of good fortune this week in Charleston. A day after beating No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova, Kovinic took out No. 11 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 6-7 (2), 7-5, 6-1 in two hours and 53 minutes.
Kovinic came back from being two points away from a straight-set loss to win. She broke Putintseva seven times, including three times in the deciding set, to close out the victory and reach the semifinals in Charleston for the first time. She will play No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who defeated No. 14 seed Coco Gauff of the United States, 6-3, 6-3 in an hour and 20 minutes, in Saturday’s semifinal round.
First name in the Charleston last four ✅
— wta (@WTA) April 9, 2021
• Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur is a master of the drop shot and she used it to near perfection in beating American teenager Coco Gauff, 6-3, 6-3, to advance against Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in the semifinals. The No. 12 seed Jabeur, who achieved a career-best ranking of No. 28 this week, hit 24 winners and converted six of nine break-point opportunities. The No. 14 seed Gauff was hampered by 31 unforced errors and was able to only break Jabeur three times in 11 tries. Jabeur outpointed the 36th-ranked Gauff 74-55.
Books a first clay-court WTA semifinal 👊
— wta (@WTA) April 9, 2021
Saturday’s Volvo Car Open order of play
— Michael Dickens (@michaelcdickens) April 9, 2021