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Welcome to Paradise: Paula Badosa returns to Roland Garros eager to embrace favorite status
Back in Paris after a breakthrough run to the quarterfinals, the No. 3 seed is refreshed from a grueling clay swing and ready to become all that the tennis world expects her to be.
Published May 22, 2022
WATCH: Badosa scored an epic win over Ons Jabeur to at last clinch world No. 2, but has struggled since.
A week removed from Roland Garros, Paula Badosa needed a break.
“I really needed it,” she emphasized to me over FaceTime. “It’s been a tough year, with a lot of new things: new challenges, expectations, and a lot of things to handle. With all that, came a lot of emotions, to be honest, and I really needed to stop for at least a day or two where I could be on the sofa at home and think about me and how I am right now.
“Sometimes I forget about Paula the person and I’m just thinking about the professional part where you’re playing matches and focused on winning again and again.”
Tough as it is to imagine the daughter of model (as in haute couture) parents adopting less than perfect posture, the world No. 3 indeed took time to unwind after an early exit from the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and binge-watched Welcome to Eden, a Spanish thriller released to Netflix earlier this month.
Welcome to Eden invites viewers to an island oasis where little is as it seems, and Badosa can claim a similar arc since conquering her own Tennis Paradise at the BNP Paribas Open. The game-changing title guaranteed a Top 10 debut and booked her a ticket for the WTA Finals in Gadalajara, where she won her round-robin group and reached the semifinals.
“I feel like I’m the same person but things around me have changed a lot. Of course, it’s not the same being No. 2 or 3 as it was to be No. 70,” she says of where she began 18 months ago. “I have a lot more extra-sport things: sponsors, photoshoots, and things more related to fashion that I wasn’t used to doing. But I try to have fun with these, and nice to be able to do different things so it’s not always tennis, tennis, and tennis.”
Last year was very intense, and the French Open was the first time I felt so much pressure. People were putting me among the options to win the tournament! I think this year is a little bit similar, so I think I know what I’m going to find on court and how I’m going to feel. Paula Badosa
The 2022 season was a return to some of that tennis, beginning with a Sydney title and first trip to the Australian Open’s second week. Ashleigh Barty’s sudden retirement put world No. 2 on the table by the end of the Sunshine Swing, but when a virus forced Badosa out of the Miami Open quarterfinals, the quest for that career-high rank dragged into the clay-court season—and bloated her spring schedule.
“I’m not gonna lie,” she sighed. “That was a goal for me in the moment, and it’s a big part of why I wanted to play Charleston. I knew that I could be No. 2 if I won one more match; I couldn’t do it, but then I knew I had the option to make it if I played Stuttgart. I finally did it but then I had two 1000-level tournaments to play after that.”
Her six-week clay campaign can be split into two halves: the first saw her at her most tenacious, battling through epic matches to ultimately achieve her goal, while the second revealed exactly what she sacrificed to get there.
“For sure, I may have played too much this clay season. Next year, no matter what, I’ll probably play fewer tournaments so I can prioritize myself and how I’m feeling. The most important thing is to feel prepared for every tournament because if I feel fresh, I think I will have good results. It’s not about playing a lot, but playing with quality.”
Mentally exhausted, she underperformed in Madrid and Rome, and though she lost to capable players in Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina, Badosa was left looking up to the best of them all for inspiration on how to manage her career.
“I see Iga making such good decisions,” she said, noting the world No. 1’s withdrawal from the Mutua Madrid Open after winning the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. “She’s been in the Top 10 for a while already, and so I see she has the experience with this.”
Her failed gambit for a Top 2 seed landed her in the same half as Swiatek, who won their only previous meeting in Guadalajara. The growing number of familiar opposition is a hallmark of a breakthrough player’s sophomore season, but one that the hyper-competitive Badosa relishes.
“Opponents know me much better now. They know how I play on clay or hard courts, so it’s very challenging for me to face players when I see that they know me and they’ve studied me very well. A few months ago, that was less the case, but that’s just another challenge.”
The word “challenge” brings forth a revelation and a smile: “In tennis, you always have challenges, but that’s the good and nice part about the sport!”
Where Badosa enjoys an unmitigated advantage is in expectations, which have always outpaced her ranking.
“Last year I had a lot of pressure, and just the other day, I was thinking, ‘Why were there so many expectations on me? I was only No. 30 in the world and people were putting me among the options to win the tournament!’
“I think this year is a little bit similar, so I think I know what I’m going to find on court and how I’m going to feel. I already passed it one time, so I think I can deal a little bit better with all those conditions.”
Pressure famously overwhelmed Badosa early in her career, particularly hopes that she would match the heights hit by idol Maria Sharapova. With only a major victory missing from her resume, the 24-year-old finds herself very much on that predicted path—her recent meeting with Vogue editor Anna Wintour one of many surreal reminders.
“To be honest, to this day, I’m not even conscious of everything that’s happened to me,” she says after blushing at the thought of following Roger Federer as Wintour’s next tennis muse. “Sometimes I see people looking at me or fans coming over and for a second I think, ‘What are they doing?’ And then I remember that I’m No. 3 in the world and I have to sign things; I have fans now! It’s quite funny, but in my case, everything came so fast that sometimes it’s tough for me. It’s a process to be more conscious and accept all these big changes in my life.”
Where past disappointments sent Badosa into depression and anxiety, the No. 3 seed has found stability through all the changes thanks to a wealth of personal happiness—built on a combination of big things like support from boyfriend Juan Betancourt and simpler pleasures like doubles with good friend Aryna Sabalenka or even the rare Parisian chocolate croissant.
“For me, it’s the key. How I am, how my tennis goes, I’m very emotional, so if I don’t feel good, happy, and well off the court, it’s very difficult to perform. As I found that as a person and as a player, I decided to make changes to my personal life and it made everything better: in my career and my life.”
The New York-born Badosa is at last refreshed, settled in her second favorite city and competing for the major title she wants to win most. Paradise awaits on the other side of two grueling weeks, but is she ready for all Eden entails?