STUTTGART, Germany -- Paula Badosa has been chasing the World No.2 ranking for weeks, only to come one match short. But on Friday at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Badosa finally came through. By defeating Ons Jabeur to advance to the semifinals, the 24-year-old Spaniard will overtake Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova as the No.2 player Monday when the latest rankings are released. Badosa celebrated the feat by drawing a heart and the number two on the center court clay.
"I was aware [I was close] for weeks, I'm not going to lie," Badosa told WTA Insider after the win. "In Charleston, I needed one more match: nothing. In Miami, one more match: I had to retire.
"It was a goal and I really wanted to be in that position. For me, it's a dream come true so I was really going after it. So I'm really happy that today I could do it and I could leave that mental block out of it from the match and I could play pretty well. I think I played a high-level match."
This time 12 months ago, Badosa was ranked No.62 and just on the verge of her climb up the rankings. Her rise began with a run to the Madrid Open semifinals as a wildcard, her first such run at a WTA 1000 event, and she capitalized on her momentum by winning her first WTA title in Belgrade and first quarterfinal run at a Slam at the French Open.
But Badosa's ascent to the upper echelons of the game came in the fall when she captured her biggest title in Indian Wells to break into the Top 10 and qualify for the WTA Finals. She finished the season ranked a career-high No.8.
Now came the challenge of backing up her breakout season. Badosa was open about dealing with the new set of pressure and expectations, but she has handled her newfound status incredibly well. Badosa began the season by proving she wasn't just a clay-court wonder, winning the title in Sydney. She went on to make the Indian Wells semifinals and Miami quarterfinals last month.
"I was talking with my coach about Iga Swiatek because I remember last year she was suffering a lot with every match," Badosa said. "I remember seeing her crying on the court.
"But at the beginning of this year I was talking to my coach and I said I totally understand now what she's feeling. Because at the beginning I didn't know what was happening. This happens to me now. I wanted to cry in the third set today. There's so much pressure on you and at the end of the day, you're all alone on the court. It's a very mental game. But I'm happy I'm getting through it."
Badosa has not taken her high-level consistency for granted. That's been the key to her success.
"A lot of people are maybe used to seeing me winning matches, but it's not a normal thing," Badosa said. "Mentally, it's changed. I feel pressure, I feel expectations, like you have to do a minimum of results to have people feel happy and calm. It's a big change. And I feel it with my opponents. They play against me, and maybe I'm a little bit more tight and they play loose.
"Now I admire even more my idols because it's a very tough process. But I think I'm doing it well and I'm trying to focus on myself and what I have to do in that moment and not think about those things. I know that maybe now I'm doing well, but next week I can lose against anyone because the level is very high. The most important is to stay humble and work, have a good relationship like I have with my team and keep going."
Badosa will face her recent doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals. The two struck up an unexpected friendship in Indian Wells.
"I didn't really know her that well before Tiebreak Tennis and we decided to play doubles," Sabalenka told WTA Insider. "Then we started to get to know each other more. I was surprised by how nice she is. I like her personality and I like practicing and spending time with her."
Will their newfound friendship play a role in Saturday's showdown?
"When you see her play with that serve and forehand and backhand, do I think it's going to make it easier because we're friends? My answer is no," Badosa said, laughing. "With Ons, the drop shots were going very good for her today and I'm her friend.
"We're competitive. In that moment, we have no friends. She pushes you to the limit and if you don't have a good day you don't have chances.
"I hope it's the new normal, to see me in the final rounds, to see Iga, Ons, Sakkari, Aryna. It's nice. It's a new generation. It had to come someday and I'm happy that I'm among the top."