Our interview with Paula Badosa: “I understand what Naomi Osaka is going through”

In an exclusive interview, the Spaniard tells Simon Cambers how she’s trying to handle the pressure at Roland-Garros and details how she has also suffered with mental health issues

Paula Badosa won one of the best matches of this year’s Roland-Garros on Friday as she reached the fourth round for the second straight year.

A former junior French Open champion (2015), the young Spaniard is in the bottom half of the draw, vacated by the withdrawal of Naomi Osaka and the defeat on Friday of No 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka, and is many people’s tip to go all the way through the bottom half, having won her first career title on clay in Belgrade a week before Roland-Garros.

The 23-year-old, sitting at a career-high No 35 in the rankings and due to go higher after this fortnight, had been seeded to play Osaka in the third round before the Japanese pulled out after her first match, revealing that she has been suffering from anxiety and depression.

It is a subject Badosa knows well, having also suffered from similar mental health issues as a junior, something she detailed in an interview with the WTA in 2019. Born in New York and as the daughter of two models, Badosa was tipped as the next Maria Sharapova and found it difficult to live up to expectations. At one stage, she was struggling to see how she would ever be a professional tennis player, as she explained in a social media post.

Badosa: “You have to manage a lot of pressure”

Thankfully, Badosa found a way to deal with things but in an interview with Tennis Majors, she says she feels empathy with Osaka for what she’s going through.

“I have to be honest, it is a different situation to Naomi because she won four grand slams and it’s another level, but still, I can understand what she’s going through,” Badosa said in an interview at Roland-Garros this week.

“I’ve been a little bit in the same situation. When you’re good, very young, it’s difficult. It’s difficult to manage all that pressure.

“And I think it’s difficult because you’re only 20, 21, 22 years old and you have to manage a lot of things. You have to manage a whole team. You have to manage how to play in front of 15,000 people. You have to manage a lot of people (who say) when you start a tournament and then they think you’re going to win the tournament already and you still have seven matches ahead.

“So you have to manage a lot of pressure and that’s a little bit tough sometimes. And that gives you anxiety and I think a little bit of depression. And I think that’s what she’s going through.”

Badosa: “Tennis players have to mature early”

Badosa says tennis players have to cope with situations that in other walks of life, they may not encounter until they are much older, much more experienced and able to deal with difficulties.

“That’s why sometimes I talk about this because tennis players have to do all this process very young,” she said. “Sometimes, in another (jobs), you have time until you’re 40 years old or 50 years old and you have all that process, you can do it like normal.

“But as a tennis player, you have to do it very fast. You have to do this process. And in 23, 24 years old, your head has to be a like a 40 years old person. So that’s a little bit tough. That’s the, the challenge in tennis.”

On the court, Badosa showed her resilience once more as she saved a match point to beat an inspired Ana Bogdan on Friday, setting up a fourth-round encounter with the 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova.

With Osaka gone, and Sabalenka also out, Badosa knows people are looking at her as a potential semi-finalist or finalist, but she’s trying to remain calm.

“Of course, there are expectations and of course, there’s pressure,” she said. “And I think there’s always pressure in a Grand Slam. But of course, maybe without Naomi. I feel that a little bit more, to be honest.

“But I’m doing quite a good job with my coach, very good mental job, and trying to stay focused on myself, not thinking so much about who is on the other side, because it’s always tough. I’m going to try to be focused on myself, try to play good tennis and let’s see how it goes.”

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