Paula Badosa became the BNP Paribas Open's first Spanish champion on Sunday after defeating two-time champion Victoria Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) to win her first WTA 1000 title.
The 23-year-old Spaniard was victorious in a three-hour battle that has already been called the best final of the season. The win will boost her to a career-high ranking of No.13 on Monday. Badosa's stunning week in the California desert also moves her into a qualifying position for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, where she ascended to No.8 on the Porsche Race Leaderboard.
This season has been a breakout for the New York-born Spaniard. Twelve months ago, Badosa was ranked No.87 and still trying to live up to the hype following her 2015 Roland Garros girls' title. Despite the start of her season derailed by three weeks because of quarantine in Australia, Badosa quickly got back on her feet to become one of the most feared players in the draws. In Charleston, Badosa earned wins over No.1 Ashleigh Barty and eventual Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic. Then came a promising run to the Madrid semifinals, where she earned wins against Barbora Krejcikova and Bencic again. Ahead of Roland Garros, Badosa won her first WTA title, in Belgrade, and used her momentum to make her first major quarterfinal at Roland Garros.
The season was not without adversity. Whether it was her early quarantine, a sudden coaching split or managing untimely injuries, Badosa has continued to bounce back quickly time and time again. Of course, her perspective on what constitutes true adversity is colored by her tough experiences of fighting through depression when she was younger and dealing with the expectations that came with her talent.
"This year I had, of course, a roller-coaster year, disappointments and everything," Badosa told reporters after the win. "But after all I've been through in my life, it wasn't disappointment. That's the good part.
"When you suffer a lot, when you're young, when you have a little bit of disappointment, you don't feel it like that. So that's the good part of what happened this year. Of course, I have bad moments. But compared to the things I've been through, it's nothing."
Badosa sat down with WTA Insider after her Indian Wells triumph to reflect on her stunning run to the title, the development of her game over the course of the season and what it's like to test herself against the best in the world.
WTA Insider: Before the tournament, you were coming off a tough few weeks of managing a shoulder injury and changing coaches. What was going through your mind going into your main-draw debut here?
Badosa: I remember flying here and I was on WiFi talking to my boyfriend. I was like, 'I'm a little bit afraid.' I'm playing well, but I didn't play matches this last month. I had a normal U.S. swing. I won good matches, but then U.S. Open wasn't that good. I'm a little bit scared of what could happen here and everything. It was like that.
I was working very hard and he was like, 'You're working very hard but believe that you can do a very good tournament here.' It's like, yes, but and I came out and the week before, I was sick as well, so I couldn't practice or a lot of things in my mind.
But I think I really had a very good mindset here with my coach. He did an amazing job. We were working very hard, but then when he saw me a little bit stressed, he was like, 'OK, this afternoon you're going to go shopping.' Try to disconnect and to be a little bit happy outside because sometimes I get too negative and very worried before the tournaments.
I put a lot of pressure on myself. So I think with me and my case, the key is to find that balance. I think my team is doing that very well.
WTA Insider: In your press conference you said that you used to think that "being professional" meant thinking about and focusing on your tennis all the time and you're learning that's not true. Can you expand on that?
Badosa: It's something that I talk with the other players about. I'm lucky that I have a really good relationship with them. I think that's important as well. It doesn't mean that if you have a good relationship, then when you play against them something will change. Maybe a few years ago or some years ago, it was a little bit different, the relationships between players.
A few years ago, I really thought that I had to be - it's funny to say - sad or angry, all day like that, and that was professional. It's not like that.
I think it's very important the people know how it works because of course, I think in tennis you work four or five hours a day and 100 percent that's what I'm doing, 100 percent on that. But then the day has 24 hours, and it's very complicated if you're all day worried, 'Oh, I didn't put this serve on that moment on my practice, or I'm not practicing as perfect as I want to.'
So I think you have to find that balance and I think the greatest to do that. There's a lot of examples. The Big Three, they're amazing, but they have their time, they have their personal life, and that's the perfect example. That's what I'm trying to do.
WTA Insider: Your season started in the worst way, with 21 days of hard quarantine in Melbourne, but is ending in the best of ways. But your progress has been steady all season. Is that how you see it?
Badosa: I have to be honest, I'm really proud of this year because I've had very good results but I've been very consistent. I did a lot of quarterfinals. Then when I was losing in the quarterfinals I was like, 'I don't want to do this,' I prefer to win a tournament and then lose first round. But you always want what you don't have.
But I think the most thing I'm proud of is that I was very consistent and doing good results, but then after the next tournament as well. So I was keeping that very good and being very regular.
I'm very happy about that because a few years ago I wasn't like that. I was very inconsistent. It was a rollercoaster. I was winning an ITF tournament but then I was losing the next week in the first round. So it was quite important for me to be very consistent and I think this year the thing that I've done the best is that.
How it started 🌴— wta (@WTA) October 18, 2021
R3: Gauff 
R16: Krejcikova 
QF: Kerber 
SF: Jabeur 
F: Azarenka 
How it ended 🏆 pic.twitter.com/B6hy2J62Yr
WTA Insider: Your game was so impressive in the final, especially against Azarenka, who fought so hard to never let you build a meaningful lead.
Badosa: She raises your level because she keeps pushing you, pushing you. She forces you a lot and that's what I felt today. She was forcing me, 'OK, if you want to win, you have to play the best tiebreak of your life.' But that's what I had to do. I had no option. So amazing on that.
I think I'm finding that balance and to be aggressive, but at the same time trying to be a good defender, to run a lot. I was struggling a lot a year ago. Because I was very aggressive but then to move, it was quite difficult for me. I'm tall and big, so I think I did a big change on that and I have to give all the credit to my fitness coach.
WTA Insider: On Monday you're going to be ranked No.13. You beat three major champions in Indian Wells and tallied four Top 20 wins. Do you feel like a World No.13 or Top 10 player?
Badosa: Look, I have to be honest, I don't know if I feel it, but I've been winning a lot of good matches this year and a lot of Top 20s, a lot of Top 10 players as well.
As I said, I have a very good relationship with almost all of them. So we practice a lot and a lot of them are Top 10 players starting with Ons, Barbora, Pliskova, Petra Kvitova. So I'm practicing with all these players and on the practice, I saw that the level was very similar. So my team was like, 'OK, you're there, you just need just one tournament' or something. It just happened here.
But yeah, I feel I'm on that level, Top 10 or Top 15. Of course, it depends a little bit on the day, but all these players, when you play against them, it's a little bit, 'OK, it's going to be a good match and who plays better that point is going to win.' It's for one or three points.
But yeah, I can say I feel I'm at that level.
WTA Insider: Barbora Krejcikova said something similar, that when she was able to practice with the other top Czechs during the Covid break, she realized her game was right there. It gave her belief.
Badosa: I say it a lot, but it's a little bit like that, to believe in that moment. Because the shots, you have them. I played a very good match today, but I think the key is that in that 6-all, mentally, you have to have something different or something special in that moment because the shots, I think Barbora has them, I have them, Iga has them. So a lot of players have them. But in that moment, who plays better?
🤣— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) October 15, 2021
WTA Insider: Your friendship with Ons got some spotlight after you both made the semifinals to face each other. As you said, you're very friendly with a lot of players from up and down the ranking. Everyone has their own philosophy regarding friendships on tour. How did you come to yours?
Badosa: When I was 15 years old and I was playing my first WTAs, I used to see the energy and I never liked it, I have to be honest. I never, never liked it. I thought, if I'm one day there - I hope and I will try to work hard to be there - I want to be different.
I'm super lucky that now there's like a change of generation. They're super, super nice. They're amazing. I didn't open my phone, but I saw it quickly and there were a lot of these players texting me. It's very fun and very exciting to have these kinds of players texting me before the match and it's very nice because I think we compete on court but then outside the court we have to make it more simple and more normal because we have already are a lot of pressure from outside, a lot of expectations. If you don't have good energy here it's even tougher.
That's why I tried to have a good relationship with them. I'm always talking with a lot of players, what they're going to do on holidays, and I think it's nice and we see each other like almost every day and we've practice a lot. So I think you're happier if you have a good energy. And it doesn't change anything.
WTA Insider: You'll be No.8 on the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals on Monday with a few more weeks of tournaments. What would it mean to you to qualify for Guadalajara?
Badosa: It would mean a lot. I was talking two days ago with my team, I was super excited. I want to go there. I've always seen the Finals on TV and imagine me going there? I was super excited. I was getting excited, like, I have to take a dress to go there. So imagine, I was like a little girl, you know?
And I'm lucky that I have a good relationship with almost all of them, so it's even nicer. From Day 1 you are going to have an amazing match, and I like to play these kind of matches. And it means that I'm one of the eight best players in the world. So it's crazy.