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Paula Badosa defers favorite status to Simona Halep ahead of first meeting in Madrid
The newly-minted world No. 2 predicted an intense battle against Halep, a former No. 1 and two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion.
Published Apr 28, 2022
WATCH: Badosa secured the No. 2 ranking last week in Stuttgart after defeating good friend Ons Jabeur in three sets.
Players are rarely the ones asking questions in press conferences, but Paula Badosa couldn’t help herself as a journalist previewed her Mutua Madrid Open clash with two-time champion Simona Halep.
“You think I'm the favorite there?” the world No. 2 asked. “Yeah? Okay, I will take it.”
The rankings certainly point towards the Spaniard. After all, Badosa clinched her highest-ever ranking after reaching the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix semifinals last week and is just over a year removed from her initial ascent towards the top of the game, but plans to take little of that for granted against the former world No. 1.
“It's going to be very tough,” she insisted. “She won this tournament. She’s played center court, she played so many times, so she knows this court very well. I think she has a quite good clay court game. She won Roland Garros, what can I say?
“But I think it's going to be interesting match, because it's going to be quite a clay-court match, very tactical, and I'm really looking forward to that. Of course, she's a great champion. So maybe I'm the favorite or no, I will try to give my best, because for sure she will push me to the limits.”
Badosa first began to find her own outer limits on clay with a win over then-No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in Charleston, and continued that momentum through the European swing with a semifinal finish at her home tournament, a first WTA title in Belgrade, and a first major quarterfinal in Paris. She ended the breakout year with a BNP Paribas Open title and run to the WTA Finals semis.
I think she has a quite good clay court game. She won Roland Garros, what can I say? Paula Badosa on Simona Halep
“I think it's even tougher here because you really want to do well,” she had explained earlier in press. “You have pressure playing at home, so I'm really proud and happy at how I'm managing all these kinds of emotions.”
The 24-year-old had plenty to be proud of in her return to the Caja Magica, during which she dropped just three games to former nemesis Veronika Kudermetova, winner of their rivalry’s first three matches and runner-up at last week’s Istanbul Cup.
“I think she's No. 10 or 11 at the race, so you can imagine how tough she is. She won over a lot of top players, so she knows how it is to win top players and to win me.
“I knew I had to play my game, not to let her dominate a lot. So that's what I tried to do. I think at the beginning I was nervous, but then I finished playing in a very high level.”
The 64-minute 6-3, 6-0 win was by far her quickest of what has hitherto been an arduous clay-court swing, one in which three of her five wins have come in three sets.
Things are sure to get tougher in her first meeting with Halep, who was similarly efficient to overcome Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-3 in her first match under new coach Patrick Mouratoglou. The media savvy longtime coach of 23-time major champion Serena Williams declared the partnership a “new era” on his academy’s Instagram page, and undeniably represents a sea change for the former world No. 1 after spending the bulk of her peak years with the lower-key Darren Cahill.
“I want to get back to the top,” she told Tennis Majors—Mouratoglou’s media imprint—after making the official announcement earlier this month, “and of course, I’m dreaming of another Grand Slam, and that’s why I’m working every day. [Patrick] spent 10 years with the best player in the world, and she became better than before.”
Injuries have curtailed Halep’s schedule in the post-lockdown era, most catastrophically last spring when a freak leg injury forced her out of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, but when healthy, she has been close to her absolute best—particularly in 2022 with a title run in Australia and semifinal finishes in both Dubai and Indian Wells.
That her absences have largely coincided with Badosa’s rise explains why the Romanian is among the few top players the No. 2 seed is yet to face, but she relishes the challenge all the same.
“I think my personality was it's always that it's a pleasure and it's a good test,” she mused. “I think these kinds of matches, I play a high level. I try to give my best there and I like them. I think it's a little bit similar when I played the Indian Wells final.
“It's the matches that you work for, you know. I will try to give my best, and I hope people can enjoy because I will try to make a good match.”