Badosa Making A Believer Of Herself Every Match, Every Point

Paula Badosa (photo: WTA video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, October 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Paula Badosa has arrived at the moment of the biggest title match in her budding tennis career. On Sunday, the 23-year-old Spaniard who was born in New York City but lives and trains in Barcelona, will play 32nd-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the BNP Paribas Open women’s singles final.

“She’s an amazing champion. She has been here a lot of times. She has a lot of experience there. I expect a tough match,” Badosa said in press Friday night.

“But I’m playing good. I’m playing confident. I will try to go for it and let’s see how it goes.”

Badosa, who is recognized for her competitive spirit, is peaking at the right moment.

“I’m believing every point,” the 21st seed Badosa said after she beat World No. 14 Ons Jabeur, 6-3, 6-3, in the semifinal round at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, situated in the southern California palm desert. She’s the first Spanish woman in 25 years, since Conchita Martinez, to reach the Indian Wells final.

“Every day, I’m working very hard as well.”

In a season that has included many surprising and enjoyable moments mixed with a few tense ones, few could have imagined that Badosa would go from being ranked No. 70 at the start of the year to breaking into the Top 20. After reaching the semifinals in Lyon following a first-round loss at the Australian Open, in which she served a hard quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne, Badosa enjoyed back-to-back semifinal runs on clay last spring in Charleston, S.C. and Madrid. Then, she won her first WTA tour-level title in Belgrade, also on red dirt. Add to it, a good run into the second week at Wimbledon followed by a quarterfinal finish at the Western & Southern Open, and Badosa has showed her bona fides on all surfaces.

However, by the time Badosa arrived at last month’s US Open, she was without the coach who helped her rise in the rankings (Javier Martí) and it was compounded by a sore right shoulder. At Indian Wells, she’s reunited with childhood coach Jorge Garcia and there’s noticeable strapping tape on the afflicted shoulder. Suddenly, Badosa has parlayed her debut at Indian Wells into something special. After playing in five semifinals this season, she’s into her second final – and it’s her first at the WTA 1000 level. She will face a seasoned 27th seed Azarenka, who at age 32 is a two-time Indian Wells champion and has been playing solidly throughout the fortnight.

“Of course, a change, always it’s scary,” Badosa admitted after beating World No. 5 Barbora Krejcikova. “Maybe even though things are going well, when you change, sometimes you lose a little bit of confidence. After I was struggling with my shoulder this last month, I didn’t play so many matches, so it was a little bit tough mentally. When I was coming here, I remember I was a little bit afraid of what could happen.”

One thing that Badosa has done well – especially this season – is to overcome pressure and adversity. She credits her new coach for the improvement.

“We have a good relationship and that’s important,” Badosa said about Garcia. “He’s helping me and I’m happy with my decision.”

The Spaniard, for one, sees a difference in her current play and abilities from earlier this season. “I’m even more confident,” she said. “When I win a good match, I believe more in myself. Of course, I don’t see it normal. I’m excited every time I win them. I’m getting more used to playing [in big matches]. I think it’s a big step forward for me.”

The 27th-ranked Badosa, as well as others enjoying break-out seasons like Krejcikova and Jabeur, are becoming familiar faces to fans. They’ve been some of the biggest movers and shakers in the WTA rankings this year.

“It’s nice seeing all these players that we were like a few years ago, outside the Top 100, now being Top 10, Top 20, fighting for the finals. It’s amazing,” Badosa said earlier this week after beating No. 10 seed Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals.

“I’m lucky that I have a lot of good relationships with the players. I think it’s important. You just compete on court, but outside court you can have a good relationship. I’m like that, as well. We can share moments.”

In Badosa’s run up to the title match with Azarenka, she’s won against two of her best friends on the WTA tour, No. 3 seed Krejcikova and No. 12 seed Jabeur. With Jabeur, the two kidded each other through social media prior to their semifinal clash on Friday. Jabeur hoped Badosa’s quarterfinal match against Kerber would last five hours and she would be too tired to play her. Badosa playfully countered that she hoped Jabeur would eat too many hamburgers to be able to play her the next day.

“At the end of the day, you’re spending more moments between each other than with your own family,” Badosa said. “It becomes even more your family. They become your own family after so many years. I think it’s nice like that. I’m very competitive – but on the court. Outside the court, I don’t feel that. I’m happy that I can say that they’re my friends.”