One could make the case that the 2020 French Open was the first Major breakthrough for 23-year-old Paula Badosa. Meandering just inside the top 90 at World No. 87 before the tournament started, Badosa’s career trajectory was quite uncertain.
Would the Spaniard make a charge towards the top of the WTA Tour? Or would she slink back in the rankings and struggle to establish herself as a WTA-level player?
Paula Badosa Career Path
Badosa had established herself as a potential rising star when she won the 2015 juniors French Open, defeating Anna Kalinskaya in straight sets. But, as is the case with many promising Juniors, success at the professional level was much harder. Coming into the 2020 season, she had a career high ranking of World No. 86.
The balance started to tip, however, at last year’s Roland Garros. After a battle in the first round against Kateryna Kozlova, Badosa beat former finalist Sloane Stephens in the second round before taking out 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko to make her first ever second week of a Major.
Badosa told the WTA’s Victoria Chiesa following the win over Ostapenko, “When I was in juniors, there were a lot of expectations in my country, saying I need to be the next Sharapova..and I wasn’t ready for that.”
Later on Badosa said to Chiesa, “I think I’ve improved a lot mentally and physically. I work very hard…I’m playing more aggressive, more confident…Now I believe more that I can win these matches, and I think that’s the big change and the key.”
And while Badosa would lose to Laura Siegemund in the ensuing Round of 16 match, that run at Roland Garros was an important step in her development, and a sign that she could compete with established WTA Tour players.
Badosa in 2021
And Badosa has taken the lessons she learned from the French Open and taken 2021 by the horns. The Spaniard has racked up an impressive resume of results. She made the semifinals of the indoor hard court event in Lyon, the green clay tournament in Charleston, and the high-altitude red clay home event in Madrid.
Now, she’s a WTA Tour singles champion. Badosa won the red clay WTA event in Belgrade without losing a set. The Spaniard beat the dangerous Ana Konjuh 6-2 2-0 (ret.) in the final to lift the winner’s trophy.
It was yet another huge breakthrough in Badosa’s career and certainly a relief to the Spaniard. As Badosa explained to the WTA following the win over Konjuh, “I’ve been chasing this since a long time, so finally I have it here with me.”
What is clicking so well with Badosa’s game? Something she talked about in her interview with Chiesa is how her improved aggression on-court is translating to improved results. This is especially seen on the backhand side.
Her backhand is among the best on the WTA Tour and she does a great job ramping up on the aggression on that wing while also playing with a good level of control. Her backhand down-the-line is particularly lethal. She gets good depth on her groundstrokes and the movement is there, as well.
Another point that Badosa brought up to Chiesa is her improved mentality on the court. The Spaniard is mentally tough and doesn’t let patches of poor play affect her mindset.
Badosa is in-form and dangerous to almost every player in the draw, now sitting at a career high ranking of World No. 34.
And because of Alison Riske’s French Open withdrawal, she is now a seeded player at Roland Garros with a favorable draw.
Paula Badosa and the 2021 French Open
In the first round, as the unusual “33rd seed,” Badosa will take on American Lauren Davis. Davis has a mediocre 3-3 during the 2021 clay-court season, and has a game better-suited for hard courts. She shouldn’t be able to handle the pace and precision that Badosa brings to the table.
In the second round, Badosa would either face French wild card and recent clay ITF champion Clara Burel or recent clay WTA finalist Danka Kovinic. While either opponent would present a much tougher challenge than Davis, Kovinic’s backhand wouldn’t be able to hold up in cross-court exchanges and Burel doesn’t have the rally tolerance or depth-of-shot yet to be a serious threat to Badosa with the Spaniard’s current form.
Up next for Badosa would potentially be World No. 2 Naomi Osaka. Osaka has made waves recently in her refusal to do press conferences, citing mental health as the reason.
Regardless of whether one agrees with her reasoning, the fallout from such a decision is likely a distraction to Osaka, who has historically been a mediocre clay court player anyways. This season, Osaka’s record on clay is a disappointing 1-2, her more linear game not working nearly as well as it does on faster surfaces.
With this said, Badosa should be the favorite to reach the second week of Roland Garros out of this section, even with Osaka in the mix.
And if Paula Badosa can make the round of 16 at the French Open once again, she might just be a dark horse to take the title.
Given her form, it wouldn’t be smart to doubt her.
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