Badosa Making Herself At Home On Stuttgart’s Indoor Clay

Paula Badosa (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 21, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 3 Paula Badosa is at home on clay – red or green – no matter where she’s playing around the globe. After all, the U.S.-born Spaniard garnered her first win over a World No. 1 last year on clay in Charleston, S.C. Then, she made her first WTA 1000 semifinal in Madrid, won her first WTA title in Belgrade, and reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open.

This week, at the WTA 500 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, she’s had plenty of time getting used to the conditions of playing on indoor clay. Thursday afternoon, Badosa finally played her first singles match after receiving a bye into the second round as the second-seeded player. She started strongly against No. 19 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, then saw her play dip in the second set. However, Badosa made a nice recovery to win a third-set tie-break and with it the tussle, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4), in two hours and 30 minutes filled with quality tennis.

Badosa closed out her 19th victory of the season on her third match-point chance after Rybakina hit an 11th shot backhand wide. She finished with seven aces and 36 winners overall to 29 unforced errors and broke Rybakina’s serve six times in 14 chances. Meanwhile, Rybakina struck five aces and 30 winners but also made 38 unforced errors. She broke her opponent’s serve five times. Badosa outpointed Rybakina 101-95 for her third win in four meetings against the Kazakh.

“Today was my first match, so maybe my level wasn’t where I wanted it,” Badosa said during her on-court interview after the victory. “As well, it was a tough match. I don’t usually play a Top 20 player in the first round. That’s how this tournament is; it’s a very high-level tournament. I’m happy I got through the match. It was important for me. …

“Mentally, I fought until the last point and I hope tomorrow I will play a little bit better.”

After enjoying such a good year on clay in 2021 – leading the WTA in clay-court victories with 17 – it’s only natural that Badosa has set the bar high for 2022. With her comeback victory against Rybakina, she’s into Friday’s quarterfinals against No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

“Expectations are always high now at the level I am,” Badosa said earlier this week during a Media Day sit down with reporters. “But I want to be very focused on day by day and enjoying it. Though clay is my favorite surface, it is very tricky because my opponents see me as the favorite and they play better against you.

“But still, I am feeling okay. I like to play here and am looking forward to the tournament in Stuttgart – even when it is a totally different clay court here. I am starting to like the movements and will practice for them and for the next few weeks. Here in Stuttgart, you already have a top player in the first round, and it’s good.”

Badosa also competed in the doubles draw this week with Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. They’ve been dubbed “Sabadosa” by the media and if their 7-5, 7-5 first-round win Monday over Jabeur and Ellen Perez of Australia is any indication, they have the potential to be a very formidable team as the season progresses.

“We have a super good relationship and a good connection as well on court and off court. If I have to play doubles, it has to be with someone I have a good relationship and she is an amazing player,” Badosa said. “So, it makes everything very easy. It’s nice to play doubles because you can practice a lot of things and you’re still in competition.”

Unfortunately, Badosa and Sabalenka pulled the plug before facing Coco Gauff of the United States and Zhang Shuai of China after both of them won their second-round singles matches Thursday and ceded a walkover to the No. 1 seeds.

Meanwhile, Badosa has been practicing this week with World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, whom she could face in Sunday afternoon’s final if the seedings hold true.

“We practice almost every tournament together,” Badosa said. “We know each other from playing qualies in Australia a few years ago and the practice sessions have become a kind of routine between us. We push each other a lot and she’s nice.

“I wouldn’t like to practice with people that are not nice and that have bad vibes. I wouldn’t like it. So, I cannot ask for a better partner to practice with than the World No. 1.”

Sabalenka, last year’s finalist, marches on in Stuttgart

World No. 4 and third seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who was runner up to Ashleigh Barty at Stuttgart last year, made a successful return in her first match of the 2022 tournament Thursday afternoon.

In reaching just her second quarterfinal of the season, Sabalenka beat 121st-ranked Bianca Andreescu of Canada, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, winning with a convincing cross-court backhand winner on match point.

Ahead 4-2 in the third set, Sabalenka saved four break points to hold her serve for a 5-2 lead. Then, she broke Andreescu for the fifth time in eight chances during the one-hour and 52-minute match to close out the second-round victory. The win leveled Sabalenka’s win-loss record this season at 8-8, while it was Andreescu’s second match of the year.

“I kind of knew that [the seventh] game was the key game in the set,” Sabalenka explained during her on-court interview. “[Bianca] played super unbelievable and I was super lucky to get the win. She pushed me super hard and I’m happy with the win.”

Sabalenka, who has battled through service woes all season, overcame seven double faults to hit five aces and 29 winners. She made 21 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Andreescu finished with four aces and 14 winners to 19 unforced errors. She broke Sabalenka twice in six opportunities. Sabalenka outpointed Andreescu 87-68.

Next, Sabalenka will face No. 5 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia on Friday.

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

• No. 5 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia went the distance to beat No. 39 Ekaterina Alexandrova, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), in two hours and 13 minutes to reach the quarterfinals. It was her 22nd straight indoor victory and marks the third time she’s advanced to the last eight in Stuttgart.

The World No. 6 Kontaveit put away the victory on Alexandrova’s serve with a backhand winner on match point. It’s her second three-set win in Stuttgart this week in her fifth tournament appearance. The Estonian is now 3-0 lifetime against Alexandrova, who was denied a ninth career Top-10 victory.

Kontaveit fired nine aces and hit 33 winners overall to overcome 41 unforced errors. She broke Alexandrova’s serve twice in six tries and outpointed the Russian 101-99. Alexandrova countered with eight aces and 38 winners but committed 56 unforced errors. She broke Kontaveit’s serve three times in four tries, including in the 10th game of the third set when Kontaveit was serving for the match at 5-4.

• No. 8 seed Emma Raducanu of Great Britain earned back-to-back wins on clay for the first time in her budding WTA career and advanced to her first tour-level quarterfinal on red dirt with a 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 triumph over 118th-ranked German lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch, in an hour and 39 minutes.

The victory, which was completed when Raducanu hit a fifth-shot cross-court backhand winner, advanced the 19-year-old Briton to her first quarterfinal of the 2022 season where she will face World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek for the first time Friday evening in Porsche Arena. It will also be the first time that Raducanu has faced a Top-10 opponent.

Raducanu, who struck five aces and 28 winners, won 74 percent (35 of 47) of her first-serve points, broke the Hamburg-native Korpatsch’s serve five times in eight chances and outpointed her opponent 72-52. Korpatsch wound up hitting 22 winners and committed 39 unforced errors. She broke Raducanu’s serve twice in three opportunities. With wins over Australia’s Storm Sanders and Korpatsch, this is the first time this season Raducanu has strung together consecutive victories.

• In her tournament debut, No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia moved into the quarterfinal round with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 26 Daria Kasatkina of Russia in an hour and 24 minutes. She broke Kasatikina’s serve six times and outpointed her opponent 72-59 to beat her for the third straight time and advance against No. 2 seed Paula Badosa. Jabeur has won six of seven matches on clay this season.

• Unseeded Liudmila Samsonova of Russia moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic. The No. 31 Samsonova took out the 2018 Stuttgart champion by outpointing her 69-56 to pick up her eighth victory of the season. Samsonova’s serve was not broken during the one-hour and 19-minute match and Pliskova is the highest-ranked player she’s beaten this season.

Next, Samsonova will face Germany’s Laura Siegemund, who advanced by retirement over No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari. The World No. 5 from Greece came down with a stomach illness after the first set and abruptly ended the second-round match following an hour and 13 minutes of play. The 231st-ranked Siegemund led Sakkari 6-4, 3-1. Siegemund hit 12 winners and converted four of 10 break points. She outpointed Sakkari 50-41.

• In the doubles draw, No. 4 seeds Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Chan Hao-Ching of Taiwan advanced to the semifinals with 6-4, 6-4 win over Alicja Rosolska of Poland and Erin Routliffe of New Zealand. They will face No. 1 seeds Coco Gauff of the United States and Zhang Shuai of China, who advanced by walkover against Paula Badosa of Spain and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

In the other doubles quarterfinal match, No. 3 seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine and Storm Sanders of Australia were upset by Cristina Bucsa of Spain and Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, 6-3, 3-6, 12-10. The winners will face No. 2 seeds Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands.

Thursday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix results

Friday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

By the numbers

Paula Badosa of Spain has reached the quarterfinals in seven of her last eight clay-court tournaments. She posted a Tour-leading 17-3 win-loss record on clay last season.

“Quotable …”

“I was so happy at being able to share the court today with the world No. 1. It was amazing testing oneself against such a player, even though her intensity right from the first moment just blew me away. And there were nevertheless moments when I was able to impose my tennis and stay with her. It’ll give me lot of confidence.”

Eva Lys of Germany, 342nd-ranked qualifier who lost 6-1, 6-1 to World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland during Wednesday’s second round.