WATCH: Badosa roared through the end of a dramatic three-set clash with No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka in Cincinnati.

Advertising

Paula Badosa is proving stronger than the present sum of her parts at the Western & Southern Open. The Spaniard has compiled a grueling campaign and secured career wins across singles and doubles—all without Javier Martí, the coach who catalyzed her rise up the WTA rankings.

“It’s been a tough time, but things happen and relationships finish, so I have to accept that and continue playing my best even if I’m not with a coach,” she told me straight after a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) shocker over No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka. “I’ll have time to think about what I need to do in the future, but for the moment, I’m proud to be doing this alone. I think the circumstances make wins like these even more special.”

Badosa, who edged past Elena Rybakina to reach the quarterfinals on Thursday, split with Martí ahead of the Omnium Banque Nationale, where she endured a heartbreaking loss to Rebecca Marino. The two had initially paired up in time for 2020’s autumn Roland Garros, where the former junior champion, then ranked No.87, roared into the second week with wins over Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko.

I did wonder how I would manage these matches without the support I’ve gotten used to having, and I felt a pressure to keep progressing and winning matches. Changes can be scary, so I’m happy to have come through all of that. Paula Badosa

The surge resumed after a bout with COVID-19; taking the clay-court season by storm, the 23-year-old shocked world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in Charleston and went on to reach her first WTA 1000 semifinal at home in Madrid, win a maiden WTA title in Belgrade, and earn a last-eight finish in Paris.

Arriving in Mason, Ohio with a make-shift team—one that includes childhood friend and doubles partner Sara Sorribes Tormo—she navigated a stormy Cincy debut on Monday against Petra Martic, overcoming five match points and her own lingering self-doubt.

“I did wonder how I would manage these matches without the support I’ve gotten used to having, and I felt a pressure to keep progressing and winning matches. Changes can be scary, so I’m happy to have come through all of that.”

Next came Sabalenka, a big-hitter whose eerily similar origin story can serve as a blueprint for Badosa. After all, the Wimbledon semifinalist can trace her own early breakthrough to the success of her partnership with Dmitry Tursunov. Through an extended interregnum that began the previous summer, Sabalenka emerged from the WTA lockdown without the coach who had helped her believe in her ability to compete with the game’s best.

Advertising

"It’s important for me that I was able to have success without Dmitry, because we worked together for such a long time, and I started winning with him,” Sabalenka said in Linz last fall. “It was tough to make the decision to split in the beginning. I was questioning myself and whether it was the right thing.”

On the court and off, Badosa has been far more decisive, playing a fearless tiebreak to knock out Sabalenka, earn the second-biggest win of her career, and improve her three-set record to 11-3 since April.

“That’s a good number!” she said of the stat. “I don’t know; it’s a little bit of everything. The key is that I’m fighting and believing until the last point. It was the same in the first match, especially since I wasn’t anywhere near my best on that day. I’ve been able to stay focused and keeping my mentality until the very end. I think that’s why I’m winning so many three-set matches.”

Badosa has been equally impressive in doubles, reuniting with Sorribes Tormo hours after the Sabalenka victory to upset teen sensations Coco Gauff and Caty McNally in a match tie-break and nab a career-best result in the discipline.

“She’s like my sister, and she knows me very well, since we were about 10 years old,” Badosa said. “We have so many memories together and now get to do the thing we love most, which is to play tennis together. We’ve spent most of our lives together, so it’s amazing to be on court playing doubles with her, as well. I enjoy being by her side.”

Advertising

An ardent tennis fanatic, Sorribes Tormo has been an intense fixture in the stands, willing Badosa through her singles clashes. It is a loyalty Badosa feels is emblematic of the strong bonds her country’s athletes have maintained through the Olympics and beyond.

“We all have great relationships and we make a great team,” she says, shouting out Garbiñe Muguruza and Carla Suárez Navarro, whose grace through a protracted cancer struggle has made her the heart of the Spanish squad. “Billie Jean King Cup is coming up soon, so I think it’s good to have that support if we want to do good things.”

Without her primary coach, it would be easy to assert that Badosa has played through the hard-court season at a deficit. She has instead taken the opportunity to apply all she has learned in the last year and channel a strong support system into making her even better than the player she once thought she could be.