WATCH: Badosa has won five of her last six matches against Top 10 players after overcoming Sakkari on Saturday.


Paula Badosa is on the precipice of a pitch-perfect finish to her 2021 season, a far cry from how it all began: in Australian quarantine.

The Spaniard, who is guaranteed to finish atop the Chichén Itzá after straight-set wins over Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari, spent nearly three weeks in lockdown after contracting COVID-19 en route to the Australian Open. Emerging mere days from her scheduled first round, she played a valiant opener only to suffer a heartbreaking defeat against Liudmila Samsonova.

It was then that Badosa, at the time ranked outside the Top 70, returned home, opened the windows that had been closed throughout her 21-day odyssey, and set to work at revamping her on-court attitude.

“I think maybe COVID helped me,” she mused after her 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Sakkari, “because I was two months at home and I started to work very hard on that. I didn't want to hear that anymore. I want to prove people wrong.

“A few years ago, mentally, I was a typical player: ‘Oh, she can play good, but mentally she's so far away. She needs to improve a lot on that.’ I heard that a lot.”

The 23 (now 24, as of Monday)-year-old indeed returned to tour a different player, surging into the semifinals of an indoor event in Lyon to foreshadow her thunderous clay-court swing, during which she reached back-to-back semifinals in Charleston and Madrid, culminating in her first WTA title in Belgrade.

“I did an extreme change. I passed from being super bad mentally, to now I think I'm maybe one of the best ones—or that's what I try. I fight for every point. I can’t accept myself not to do that. I think I did an amazing change on that.

“I think it's one of the things that I'm prouder of because, of course, I improved on my tennis and physically. That's tough. But I think the toughest part to improve is on the mental game.”

Now a Top 10 player, Badosa has sailed through her share of mental tests since Melbourne: first shaking off a disappointing Roland Garros quarterfinal defeat, then regrouping from a split with coach Javier Martí, all in the lead-up to her breakthrough win at the BNP Paribas Open.

Undaunted by having to adjust, she rallied from a night-session stunner over Sabalenka to overcome Sakkari, an opposite opponent in completely different conditions.

“When I went to warm up, my first thought was, ‘Oh, my God, I have so many things today to adapt.’ It was going to be a challenge because I went to court and I was like, ‘Okay, it's windy. I play in the day, so the ball flies more. I play against an opponent, I don't know her. I'm playing for the semifinals.’ So many things.”


Playing Sakkari for the first time, she held off late surges in both sets from the Greek No. 1, managing a sometimes wind-strewn ball toss to strike a whopping 10 aces to extend her winning streak to eight in a row and all but secure her spot in the semifinals—Sabalenka’s victory over Iga Swiatek made it official Saturday night.

How has she stayed so steady through a season full of uncertainty? Long open about early-career struggles with mental health, a wry Badosa indirectly chalked up her adaptability to childhood trauma.

“This year I had, of course, a roller-coaster year, disappointments and everything. But after all I've been through in my life, it wasn't a disappointment,” she said with a smile after winning Indian Wells. “That's the good part. When you suffer a lot, when you're young, when you have a little bit of disappointment, you don't feel it like that.

“Of course, I have bad moments, but compared to the things I've been through, it's nothing. For me it's okay.”

Badosa will face Swiatek in her final round robin match on Monday.