New role for Paula Badosa in Indian Wells – defending champion
As Paula Badosa won the BNP Paribas Open in October, beating Victoria Azarenka in one of the best matches of the year, she held her racquet to her head and looked at her team with a mixture of relief and joy.
It was the physical embodiment of an exhalation as Badosa finally broke through for a signature victory.
“It was rewarding because my goal is to keep working hard, of course, but also trying to enjoy the journey,” Badosa said on Friday after arriving in the desert to defend his title. “It’s really difficult to compete every week, and tennis is a difficult but very beautiful sport.”
While Badosa is only 24, she was heralded by some as the next big thing after winning the French Open women’s title aged 17 in 2015. But for various reasons, including injury and illness, success has been elusive for Badosa. And then, over the years, self-doubt also began to set in.
But in 2021, after recovering from a January bout with COVID-19 that kept her out of the Australian Open, she regained her health, started playing better and, more importantly, started enjoying the game again without the weight of expectation. Everything started to click.
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“You see a player come into her own, and you can see her through the year. You can just see how she performs on the pitch, like, ‘Yeah, I belong here. Yeah, I can do that ,” said Lindsay Davenport, former tennis star and current Tennis Channel commentator. “It’s really fascinating and fun to watch when you’re on the sidelines and you see a player really living up to his potential, and a lot of times it starts between the ears.
“These players are so good, but once they believe they can be there and once they believe in their game in those big moments, you get a result like you saw with Badosa at Indian. Wells,” Davenport said.
At this 2021 Australian Open, Badosa was ranked No. 67 in singles, but by the time she arrived in Indian Wells in October, she was ranked No. 21, so the upward trajectory was clear. And she went through a tough slice to qualify for the final in Indian Wells. She had a string of wins over 15-seeded Coco Gauff, 3-seeded Barbora Krejcikova, 10-seeded Angelique Kerber and 12-seeded Ons Jabeur, and she did it without dropping a set.
Then came that epic final against Azarenka where both players were playing at the highest level. Badosa took out the heavyweight boxing match 7-6, 2-6, 7-6.
“I have amazing memories of that day. It’s my biggest title of my career, and I was so happy, of course,” Badosa said. “It’s funny. I’m a pretty harsh critic of myself and I was telling my coach I didn’t think I played well even though I won, and he said ‘You have to watch it again.’ And it was a crazy match. Vika and I were playing at a very, very high level.”
Boosted by her Indian Wells title, Badosa jumped into the top 10, made the season-ending WTA Finals and then stayed hot, picking up another win at the Sydney International earlier this year, one of introductions to the Australian Open. .
So it was quite 365 days for Badosa, from having COVID and being absent from the Australian Open 2021 as player No. 67, to entering the Australian Open 2022 as a player of the top 10 and double champion.
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She arrives in Indian Wells this week as the No. 6 ranked player in the world and is trying out a new title for the first time – ‘reigning champion’.
“It’s a new challenge. This year I’m going to experience a lot of new things, and now I have different goals, new expectations to be a top 10 player and do interviews as the defending champion,” Badosa said. “So it’s totally different to play in the top 10 compared to the ranking I was before. But I’m really motivated to continue learning from this experience.”
Badosa will open her defense on Friday or Saturday, so she is happy to have the week to get used to the desert conditions again. She said she didn’t expect there to be too much difference from October. “I hope not,” she laughed.
It was no surprise that Badosa won in the desert, as she has an affinity for slow clay courts, and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is known for being a slow hard court.
There is a bit more sand in the box which takes away some speed from hard hitters.
“Yes. I like the conditions here. The courts are slow for me. I like to play on slow courts and with heavy balls, like clay courts,” Badosa said. “And the venue is amazing. People are very nice here. You feel very comfortable playing here. It’s a really calm atmosphere. There are a lot of things that players like about this tournament.”
Badosa has the game and the confidence to follow a recent trend. The two previous BNP Paribas Open winners, Bianca Andreescu in 2019 and Naomi Osaka in 2018, had decisive victories in Indian Wells and then won the US Open.
Is there a major in the near future of Badosa?
“I believe she’s going to win a major. I like her game. I like her work ethic. I like her demeanor on the court as well,” Davenport said. “She’s a fighter. There’s a lot to love about her game and what she wants to accomplish there.”
Shad Powers is a sports columnist for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected]