The catalan player, very young still, who has already lived a “roller coaster” journey expresses herself generously from the inside
By Raúl Cosín and Sheila Pérez (traduction) / Visibilitas / Photos: Eduardo Manzana
There was a moment when the pressure almost suffocated her and she did not enjoy her sport. A moment in which she clearly heard a voice from the inside stating that a change was necessary, and that she needed to reconnect both with herself and with tennis –which made her realize that she was lost. But the essence was that she wanted to find and recognize herself, that she wanted back, and that she needed to experience an adjustment. The key was in the roots. She looked for a moment to herself on the courts where she started to play –the club of Playa de Aro. That’s the place where her seven-year-old self held her first racket, the place where she started to hit the ball and where she fell in love with tennis. The place where –perhaps in a moment of illuminating solitude– she returned to
really smile towards her sport. Paula Badosa Gibert (Manhattan, New York, 11/15/1997) remembered well why she enjoyed tennis, which is what she wanted to recover after all. The last breath of the third edition of the BBVA Open Ciudad de Valencia was still taking place –a tournament that ultimately won Badosa– when we sat in a couple of armchairs in the lounge of the more than a hundred-year-old club with the clay court in sight behind the windows. We talked calmly, serenely and closely. And given that the exchange of questions and answers always took place looking into each other’s eyes and without any hesitation, the talk allowed to know Paula with the certainty that it was in a sincere tone. Telling her story wasn’t only a matter of opening up generously from the inside, of recognizing vanities and mistakes, of showing a more vital, personal and sporting version of herself, ready to listen without conditions, to correct mistakes and attitudes, and indeed to manifest them inside and outside of the court. It was also a matter of discovering a person who is attracted by what is different and striking, who is close to a brave profile and has personality. Someone who doesn’t fear other people’s opinions and who is rather resolved as regards to escaping the routine and embracing peculiarity and uniqueness. The important thing: “It’s being yourself.”
On her origins
The parents of Paula Badosa, who enrolled in the world of fashion, migrated to Manhattan in their younger years in order to develop their respective professional careers. She was born in 1997 in the Big Apple of New York. She acknowledges that she didn’t play any sports until she was seven years old and they returned to Spain. Her parents, in order to keep their daughter busy throughout the summer, signed her up for a tennis and swimming summer camp –which also offered other disciplines where her cousins work. “I remember it very much because on the first day, I went there, and I kind of fell in love with tennis. The camp finished and in September I was already asking my parents to sign me up for tennis lessons. I wanted to go more and more every day, it was like an obsession. And when it rained and training wasn’t possible, I would cry… I needed to play, even if it was against the house wall, which my parents obviously didn’t find very amusing at the time. It hooked me a lot”, recalls Paula.
Encounter with tennis
Settled in Barcelona, already removed from the excessive stress and deceiving noise of Manhattan, looking for a quieter life, the growth of Paula Badosa progressed by attending tennis classes, other trainings in her club, and playing her first national base competitions. At the age of fourteen she acknowledged that she needed a change, that she wanted more. The option was Valencia in Tenisval with José Altur and Pancho Alvariño: “I left home very young and it was hard for my parents, because somehow they had to ‘lose’ me, but they supported me a lot, as they have always done, so that I could fulfill my dream. When I was doing very well, my parents, my family, believed in me. When it went badly, they still believed, and continue to do so. When I moved to Valencia I did it because there was a good group with a high level, and I wanted to start being or feel like a tennis player. Being away from home and from my family was hard. I had to learn to get by and start to mature, but it was what I wanted and I was willing. I learned to be alone, to be stronger, and I appreciate those years very much”. She had the feeling and the vital need to go back home for two and a half years. A moment in which there was also a good team in Barcelona. She returned when she was seventeen. It was a takeoff year, a year of appearing strongly in the focus of attention, of an explosion as a young tennis player who showed signs of a good future. She won her first junior Roland Garros, participated in the first round of her first Miami Master, won a $ 25,000 ITF in Denain and in a matter of a year reached the world number 190 at a very tender age. “It was a great sports year, but at the same time it was very difficult for me. I was labeled as the ‘new Sharapova’ and was compared to names who were my idols. People asked me, the means interviewed me. I felt a lot of pressure from the environment. I felt that I was playing matches and people were watching me, and that losing was almost not an option… I even thought that I was already there, that I already had it, but deep inside everything was still very far away. My head couldn’t take it in. The reality is that it all came to me when I was still immature. I wasn’t ready. The situation got the best of me. I had a lot of tension, a lot of pressure, the injuries came… and I acknowledge that sometimes I stopped training thinking that I already had it made, because I lost my humility. People who loved me, my family, my coach, would tell me: ‘Paula, you don’t have it made, there’s a lot to do.’ But I did not listen and I thought they weren’t right. I was very immature, I wasn’t humble”, she says.
Difficulties and learning
She acknowledges moments of having a hard time, phases of anxiety and vital difficulties. Things were rough. A long time went by until she could compete without being ballasted by injuries. She wasn’t able to see the light in order to get out of a dark phase. But she never thought about quitting. The learning? “Well, as they say: ‘one learns the hard way’. I lacked a lot of maturity. Crash after crash, and as time went by, “I started realizing things”. Until not so long Paula Badosa was still having a hard time, lying more on the negative, experiencing anxiety to compete. But she succeeded in turning the situation around, and continues to do so: “I try to look a lot back, to remember and to enjoy the idea of ‘why did you start playing tennis?’ Remembering my roots and recovering them, thinking about how much I enjoyed it, forgetting that pressure and those moments of having a bad time. I even went to the place where I started playing in Playa de Aro, which is something that served me well: I went to the club where one day I got to hold my first racket being on my own. And it was about remembering those moments. I started playing tennis because I loved it and I enjoyed playing. That helped me being positive again and to move forward. There is a saying that I like that goes ‘sometimes you have to give two steps back in order to gain momentum’ and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The construction of a new Paula Badosa comes from her own willpower, from her family, clearly. She also puts high value on the figure of her coach Xavi Budó: “Sincerely, I have many things to thank him for. He was with me for the past three years and due to mutual issues we parted ways. We were apart for the last 9 months. But I felt that I needed him again. He had always been with me and I went to look for him, because I needed his help. He’s someone who has always supported me a lot and has a lot of experience. I’ve learned to listen, and I’m still on it because I am very stubborn. He has experience and has already lived these moments. In the past, he would tell me: ‘Paula, this is not the way’. But I wouldn’t listen, or I answered back, because I thought I was right. I was more of a rebel. But I have learned to listen, I listen to people who have experience and who I can see that want to take care of me. About the past? What is done is done, but one matures and the important thing is trying to fix it”.
The most personal profile: attraction for what is different and special
Tennis, tennis and more tennis. That is her lifestyle. That’s how she spends ninety percent of her day. But without the sound of hitting the ball, without going from one tournament to another, running on clay, hardcourt or grass, without assuming the tennist version of herself, who is Paula Badosa? “I am a girl who has a hard time showing how I am. If you scratch the surface, I think that I am a generous person, that I defend my interests and my family a lot. Since I was a kid, and up until now, I have always been a dreamer. And I would like to accomplish those dreams that I have. At the end of the day, we only live once, and I try to enjoy life and to be joyful, even if it’s not easy. I enjoy spending time with my sister and with my friends a lot. The truth is that whenever I’m not busy with tennis, I never stop for a minute.” In her personal circle, provided she lets you in, she is extroverted, and without a racket in hand she loves dancing -the apple never falls far from the tree, since her father was a dancer-, singing, and fashion. Maybe a way that comes from the cradle due to her parents, but that’s something for the future, whenever she leaves the courts, a long time from now. In the meantime, her new version blends nicely with something that Ernest Hemingway wrote: “Courage is grace under pressure”. Her seal of identity doesn’t lack flair: “I am a brave girl who is full of personality. I like to be different from the others, and I’ve liked that since I was a child. If people generally follow a pattern, I want to be different from the others. My own brand would be that personality and that attraction for the distinctive touch. I like people who do their own thing, who do things their own way without caring about what others say or think.” For the time being, she stresses that she has broken with her previous (sportive) self: “I was an unconscious and immature person, sometimes a brat with little humility detached from the reality of the world who did not realize what things cost and took things for granted… I work to become a person who values any small detail, a conversation with someone, a simple message… things that I used to take for granted. I have made a change. As regards to tennis, if I have a match, I try to enjoy everything as much as possible and do what my coach tactically asks me to. And if it doesn’t work, tomorrow is a new day. I try not to dramatize everything and to enjoy everyday life. I think reaching the objective is easier that way”. A new Paula. Her first objective is so simple and so complex at the same time: to enjoy competing again. A matter of feeling like a tennis player and to rejoice in training and in every game. She also embraces that joy on the personal level, both in the desire to squeeze everything and in that special touch of having a taste for the peculiar.