Spain's Paula Badosa was already enjoying a breakout 2021 season but the 23-year-old cemented her spot at the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara by storming to the biggest title of her career, at the BNP Paribas Open. In a season that was initially derailed by the global pandemic, Badosa's worth ethic and maturity took her to new heights as she captured her first WTA title, made her first Slam quarterfinal and consistently put herself in contention for the tour's biggest titles. 

Here's how Badosa's stellar 2021 campaign unfolded:

First hardcourt semifinal in Lyon

The seeds of Badosa's breakout 2021 season were sewn last fall at Roland Garros. Then ranked No.87, the former junior champion defeated Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko in back-to-back matches to make her first Round of 16 at a Slam. 

The Spaniard started the 2021 season ranked No.70 and kicked things off with a Round of 16 appearance in Abu Dhabi. But Badosa would land in the hard quarantine group in Melbourne and subsequently tested positive for COVID.

Badosa recovered well from her unfortunate run of luck. In her first tournament since Melbourne, she made her first WTA hardcourt semifinal in Lyon. She lost to eventual champion Clara Tauson of Denmark, but the result left Badosa confident that she was back on the right path. 

Road to WTA Finals, singles

Road to WTA Finals, doubles

Breakthrough clay season nets first WTA title, Madrid semifinal

The 2021 season would reveal Badosa as an all-court threat, but her bread and butter surface had always been the clay. After a grueling first-round loss to Ons Jabeur to close out the hardcourt season in Miami, Badosa began her clay season with a bang in Charleston.

"I feel quite comfortable on all kind of surfaces, but I think on clay I can hit a little bit with more spin," Badosa said. "I like to play with spin, especially with the forehand. So I quite like to play on clay. "As well, I like to play tactically. In clay, maybe you can apply that a little bit better."

En route to her second semifinal of the season, Badosa defeated Belinda Bencic in the second round before upsetting Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-3 in the Charleston quarterfinals for her first win over a reigning World No.1.

In her next event, in Madrid, Badosa put on a show on home soil to advance to her first WTA 1000 semifinal. Tallying wins over Barbora Krejcikova, Jil Teichmann, Anastasia Sevastova and Bencic, Badosa became the first Spanish woman to make the Madrid semifinals. Barty would avenge her Charleston loss to end Badosa's run, but with her weekly consistency, Badosa was emerging as a threat at any tournament she entered. 

"I think mentally I'm working very hard," Badosa said. "I think that's a little bit the key to believing on myself, trying to play aggressive in every match no matter what. I think that's a little bit the key. Now on clay court I'm doing the same. Trying to serve hard, to hit with my forehand."

Badosa showed no signs of a letdown after Madrid. In her next tournament at the WTA 250 in Belgrade, Badosa stormed to her first WTA title without losing a set. From there, Badosa headed to Roland Garros with a 13-2 record on clay and a dark horse favorite for the title.

"I have to be honest, I don't think I envisioned all these kind of [results]," Badosa said in Paris. "I wanted to do a good clay-court season. I was feeling good, I was working hard. I think my game suits quite good on clay. I was wanting it so, so much. I was working hard for it. It's coming.

"I didn't expect doing all these results. I was expecting doing it quite good, but not like this."

First Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros

Up to No.33 in the rankings after her Belgrade title, Badosa was seeded for the first time at a Slam at Roland Garros. After straight-sets wins against Lauren Davis and Danka Kovinic in the early rounds, Badosa scrapped and battled to a memorable, 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 win over Ana Bogdan and followed it up with another three-set win versus Marketa Vondrousova. 

"Since the moment I came here, I had expectations," Badosa said. "People was believing I could do a good tournament. That mentally was a little bit tough for me to handle it. But I think I managed them very well. I think [former coach Javier Marti] has an amazing part of it because he's been helping me every day on that."

Read: Badosa's winding road from teen prodigy to French Open quarterfinalist

Badosa would drop a heartbreaker in the quarterfinal against Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek, losing 7-5, 4-6, 8-6. At 6-6 in the third set, Badosa earned two break points at 15-40 to earn a chance to serve out the win but couldn't convert. It was a tough way for her outstanding clay season to end. Badosa would go a tour-best 17-3 on clay during that span - but she was eager to test her newfound confidence on grass. 

"I quite like playing on grass as well," Badosa said. "I feel good there as well with the serve and being aggressive, and I can't wait for the grass season to come."

Continued consistency earns first Wimbledon Round of 16

Playing in just her second Wimbledon main draw, Badosa defeated Aliona Bolsova, Yulia Putintseva and Magda Linette to book her spot in the second week of the Championships for the first time. With her run, Badosa had now made the second week at three of her past four major appearances. 

After her milestone-laden run through the natural surfaces, Badosa went into the final hardcourt season inside the Top 30 for the first time.


From coaching change to Indian Wells champion

Badosa ended her coaching partnership with Javier Marti ahead of the North American hardcourt season, but her success continued in Cincinnati. While managing a shoulder injury, Badosa posted a pair of gritty wins against Petra Martic, where she saved five match points, and No.2 Aryna Sabalenka, whom she beat 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(4) to advance to the Round of 16. 

Badosa followed that up with a straight-sets win over Elena Rybakina to make her sixth WTA quarterfinal of the season. There, Badosa's injured shoulder forced her to retire to Karolina Pliskova. 

Badosa would go 2-2 over her next two events at the US Open and Ostrava and went into the last WTA 1000 event of the season at Indian Wells ranked No.27. With new coach Jorge Garcia, Badosa marched through a grueling draw that included wins over Dayana Yastremska, Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, Angelique Kerber and Ons Jabeur to make her first WTA 1000 final and first final on hardcourt. 

"After US Open, all September, I didn't play that much," Badosa said. "I was struggling a little bit with my shoulder. It was tough, so I didn't play a lot of matches. Sometimes you have a little bit of doubts.

"But here I've been practicing very well. I'm happy that I'm through. It's important for me. As well, the big changes I had in my coaching, it was tough as well. It's tough situations that I'm passing and I'm proud of myself."

Facing two-time Indian Wells champion Victoria Azarenka in the final, Badosa locked horns with the former No.1 in arguably the best final of the year, winning 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) to become the first Spanish woman to win in the California desert. 

Champions Corner: Badosa reflects on her stunning 2021 campaign after Indian Wells triumph

The win rocketed Badosa up the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard and locked in a qualifying spot for her first WTA Finals appearance. The 23-year-old finished her regular season with a 41-15 match record, posting a 10-3 record against Top 20 opponents this year.