Few people have been as open or as articulate as Paula Badosa has been when it comes to discussing the mental health challenges and struggles an athlete can face in the world of professional sport.
In a poignant scene in the upcoming docuseries “Break Point” set to be released on Netflix on Jan. 13, Badosa engages in a raw and heartfelt conversation with members of her team, trying to explain to them the “constant internal fight” she goes through while competing on tour.
“When I’m OK, I feel at home on court and I feel like this is my place. But I go from that to ‘get me out of here, I want to die,’” Badosa said.
A much-touted talent since her junior days, Badosa, 25, dealt with a great deal of pressure after she won the Roland Garros junior title at the age of 17.
She bravely opened up about her battle with depression a few years ago and has since sought help from mental health professionals and began to unlock her true potential by becoming one of the top players on the women’s tennis circuit.
The affable Catalonian peaked at No.2 in the world last spring, and with that came a new type of pressure.
In an interview with wtatennis.com last month in Dubai -- where Badosa lives and trains -- she tried to compare how she felt as a hotly tipped up-and-comer versus how she felt last year as an established Top 5 player.
“The difference was that now I’m more exposed and of course for me it was tough to handle what people were saying about me, the judging of playing a tennis match, I couldn’t in my head understand a little bit what was happening,” Badosa said.
“But then I learned and I understand that you’re an athlete and you’re exposed to that and I have to accept it and that I have to listen to the people surrounding me, my team, and that’s the most important no matter what.”
The expectations that arise from being a potential star are different to those that come with being an actual star, and Badosa has now experienced both sides of that coin.
“At the beginning it’s a little bit shocking because that was my first time [being at the top],” she said. “I think the difference compared to before, when I wasn’t that exposed, when the pressure was about ‘what she can be’ and in this moment I’m already here and I have to handle so many things and people and so many new experiences, even off court, they were for me very new.”
Badosa works with a psychologist year-round, and in “Break Point,” which focuses on a group of tennis players during the 2022 season, she speaks about “fighting a lot mentally to try to find myself again.”
The Spaniard is not the only player to have experienced these kind of difficulties after a big breakthrough. Greece’s Maria Sakkari shared similar feelings after rising to the No.3 spot in the rankings last March and revealed she went through a dark period where she was overcome by anxiety and sadness.
Badosa, whose openness about mental health issues has encouraged many others to share their own stories, is pleased to see professional athletes embrace that kind of rhetoric.
“I feel happy when other athletes talk about it and we normalize these situations,” Badosa said.
“You feel you’re not alone in this and of course there are other players that struggle. In tennis there are moments that you feel unbeatable and moments you feel you can lose against anyone. It’s a very mental sport.”
During the offseason, Badosa went on holiday to the Maldives and said she disconnected for about five days before getting back to work.
She had her preseason training block in Dubai, where she also took part in a mixed team exhibition event and paid a visit to Al Jalila Children’s Hospital to deliver presents to the kids during the festive period.
The former Indian Wells champion found time to fly to Doha to attend the World Cup group stage match between Spain and Germany before she wrapped up her preparations and went to Australia for the United Cup.
“I was really focused and one of my goals was to get stronger physically,” Badosa said. “I think it’s very important. As you see the top players are playing every time faster and faster and you have to reach the ball.
“So for me it was a very big target and goal for this preseason. I’ve been doing double sessions of fitness and everything on the gym. And of course tennis-wise, every day I’m trying to work on my serve, my returns, first shots. Tennis is evolving a lot and I think you have to evolve with it and every time it’s more aggressive.”
Currently ranked No.11 in the world, Badosa will be one of the players looking to re-enter the Top 10 in 2023, but she prefers to focus on her game and her mentality rather than worrying about points and ranking spots.
“I want to keep improving,” she said. “I love what I do and I think that’s very important. I love to compete and I want to try to enjoy competing.
“I think when I enjoy competing I’m a very good player and that’s when I get my 100 percent potential. So that’s my goal and I think the results, if I do that, will come.”