4. "I wish I could be as amazing as her"

Paula Badosa’s run to the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals was a full circle moment on many levels: it was the former junior standout’s biggest result at a WTA 1000 tournament, happening in front of a home crowd that long expected her to meet an elite standard set by idols Garbiñe Muguruza and Maria Sharapova.

“In Spain, I remember being a junior and everyone expected me to be Top 10 by the next year,” she recalled before the 2019 US Open. “I felt so much stress and anxiety, like I had to win every match I played. It was very complicated for me.”

Born in New York City to parents who both worked as models in the mid-90s, Badosa can strike a similar figure to Sharapova on the court, particularly when she stalks about the baseline and tucks her hair behind her Nike visor. Her quarterfinal win over Belinda Bencic was even accompanied by the Spaniard’s signature celebration, sinking to her knees to kiss the clay in triumph.

“I didn't even think at that moment,” she explained after the match. “But, yeah, I love playing on clay. I love playing at home. It was a special moment. I didn't even think what I was doing.

“It didn't feel so good, because I had clay in all my face!”


Even though the dusty complexion, esteemed journalist Carole Bouchard couldn’t miss the ‘Pova parallels, musing on the comparison in a tweet Badosa later saw.

“They say it a lot,” Badosa wrote with a laugh, finally at peace with the comparison. “I wish I could be as amazing as her.”

As the year wore on, the similarities to Sharapova became less superficial as Badosa looked more and more ready to match the former world No. 1 where it mattered most. She backed up her run in Madrid with a maiden WTA title in Belgrade and first major quarterfinal in Roland Garros. A summer shoulder injury only briefly stunted her progress as she blitzed the BNP Paribas Open field to capture the biggest title of her career and ensure a berth at the WTA Finals.

In an emphatic reversal, those early-career expectations only served to fuel her fire in 2021.

“When you suffer a lot when you're young, when you have a little bit of disappointment, you don't feel it like that,” she mused after winning an epic over Victoria Azarenka. “So that's the good part of what happened this year.”