Badosa Wins Breakthrough Title In Belgrade

Paula Badosa (photo: @wtatour/Instagram)

BELGRADE/WASHINGTON, May 22, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Twenty-three-year-old Paula Badosa‘s remarkable year has been filled with plenty of ups and downs and near misses. It’s included reaching four semifinals in 2021 – including the last three consecutive tournaments she’s entered on clay – and also being quarantined in a Melbourne hotel room for three weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus back in January.

However, Badosa’s proud and fighting spirit has always remained a remarkable, positive quality of this streetwise New York City-born Spaniard, who now lives and trains in Barcelona, Spain.

On a warm Saturday evening in Serbia’s capital city of Belgrade, Badosa won her first WTA singles title in her first WTA final. She won the Serbia Ladies Open, a 250-series outdoor clay-court event at the Novak Tennis Center, after her opponent, 188th-ranked qualifier Ana Konjuh of Croatia, had to retire with a right hip injury early in the second set. The No. 4 seed Badosa had taken a 6-2, 2-0 lead in the title match when it abruptly ended.

“I’m super happy and super proud of myself,” Badosa told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference. “I think I played a very good level all week and I felt quite well. I knew it wouldn’t be easy – mentally it was tough for me – but I think I managed all those nerves and pressure pretty well. I’m really happy I could win my first WTA title.

“I have been chasing this for a long time. Finally, I have it here with me.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Badosa to describe her wonderful run of good fortune on clay this past month, especially with the start Roland Garros being just a week away. She said: “Of course, it’s always super nice to have this kind of season. I’m super excited, super motivated for Roland Garros. I’m playing at a very good level; I’m confident as well.

“I remember after Miami, telling my coach [Javier Martí] we had 10 days to prepare for Charleston, practicing hard, and I said ‘I can’t wait for the clay-court season. Promise me that I will have a good one.’ He said, ‘I promise you because you are working hard.’ Things are coming [my way]. So, we’re really, really happy.”

During the abbreviated 42-minute title match, Badosa won 82 percent (14 of 17) of her first-serve points hit eight winners – two of them aces – made just four unforced errors and converted four of seven break-point opportunities against Konjuh, who managed 10 winners but committed 12 unforced errors. She broke Badosa once but it didn’t really matter on this championship evening because there was no denying the Spaniard. Badosa was ahead on points, 42-25, when Konjuh retired.

“It’s been a hell of a fight, but I couldn’t continue,” Konjuh said, describing pain she began feeling in her hip flexor during her semifinal match earlier in the day. “I don’t want to risk Paris, playing in a few days. Hopefully I can be ready for it.”

The afternoon began under sunny skies for the second straight day following two days of steady rain that created a backlog of matches and forced the semifinals and final to be played on the same day.

In the opening semifinal, Konjuh fired 45 winners and reached the Belgrade finale by beating 115th-ranked qualifier Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia in two tie-break sets, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4), that lasted two hours and seven minutes. The victory continued Konjuh’s incredible comeback after missing much of the past three years due to multiple elbow injuries and surgeries that came after her 2016 US Open run to the quarterfinals as a teenager.

Konjuh overcame 11 double faults, 31 unforced errors and four breaks of her serve to win by the slimmest of margins in her first WTA semifinal appearance in four years. She hit three aces and kept the pressure on her Colombian opponent with 17 break-point opportunities, which she converted four of them. Osorio Serrano hit 20 winners and 17 unforced errors. Konjuh outpointed Osorio Serrano 99-96.

Despite the setback, Osorio Serrano remained positive during her virtual interview with Tennis TourTalk. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” she said with a smile. “I played a really great match – I had my chances – but [Ana’s] a savvy player. I knew it was going to be a tough match. I know I just need to keep working on small things to win this kind of match.”

Meanwhile, Badosa, who lost just 20 games all week, needed just an hour and three minutes to beat 123rd-ranked lucky loser Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria, 6-1, 6-2, to reach her first WTA tour-level final after four semifinal appearances. She’s been lights out on clay the past month, in Charleston, S.C., Madrid and now Belgrade.

In a match of one-way traffic, Badosa jumped to a 5-0 lead in the opening set and never looked back. The Spaniard won 82 percent (23 of 28) of her first-serve points, hit 16 winners and broke Tomova five times in six tries. She outpointed the Bulgarian 56-35 to move into Saturday evening’s championship match against Konjuh, who would be appearing in her first WTA final since 2017 in Auckland.

Looking back on the first five months of the 2021 season, Badosa took a moment to reflect upon it all and what it’s meant to her. After all, she’s now won 13 of her last 15 matches on the WTA tour and is projected to rise to at least No. 40 in the WTA rankings on Monday.

“I think I’m managing much better my nerves and important moments,” Badosa said during her virtual press conference. “That’s been a big difference. I think, too, that although I started the year well in Abu Dhabi, I felt I was going to have a good season. Now, it’s easy to say. At the beginning, I had a good pre-season. I think I’m learning every day, managing my nerves. Today wasn’t an easy day.

“I think I played an amazing first set – I played a very good level. Ana’s an amazing player. I’m so sorry it had to end like this. I think I played quite good. I was happy with the level.”

Krunic and Stojanovic win doubles title

The all-Serbian team of Aleksandra Krunic and Nina Stojanovic won the doubles title over Greet Minnen and Alison van Uytvanck, both of Belgium, 6-0, 6-2, on Friday. The champions advanced with an earlier semifinal victory over Timea Babos of Hungary and Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 6-2, 6-4. In the title match, the Serbians were not broken and they won five of six deciding points.

The title was the fifth for the 64th-ranked Krunic and second for Stojanovic, ranked 58th. In their four victories that culminated in winning the championship they did not drop any sets and were taken to a match tie break just once, which they won in their quarterfinal match.

“We didn’t get a chance to play together in the past a lot, but I definitely believe in us,” Stojanovic said after winning the title. “Since the moment when we first stepped on the court together in our first match, I believed that we can win this tournament. That belief came true at the end, and it means a lot to me and I’m really proud of us.”

Krunic said: “To play at home and be the first winners of the [inaugural] tournament is really a great honor. I think it just makes us really happy, to have a picture next to the Belgrade sign with the trophy.”

By the numbers