Paula Badosa and the harness race

It’s a theme which always exists in tennis: Will a talented player be able to harness her shots, especially when they contain plenty of power and bite? Will a promising player find a way to create a complete and steady game with patient shot selection? Will a formidable shotmaker develop the consistency which will translate into reliable stroke production in high-stress moments, thereby leading to a bigger breakthrough on tour?

At Indian Wells in October, Paula Badosa has certainly given herself a chance to answer these questions the right way in 2022. If you were looking for someone to use this tournament as a springboard for next season, Badosa might be your answer.

Badosa, who managed her quarterfinal match quite astutely against Angelique Kerber on Thursday, has reached the semifinals of this 96-player tournament. At an event where three players seeded lower than 20 have reached the semis (and no player among the top 11 seeds is still alive, with the top three players in the world not even competing in the event), Badosa might be the most interesting semifinalist of the four.

Victoria Azarenka is a former major champion who reached the U.S. Open final a year ago, but didn’t carry that into 2021. Jelena Ostapenko, as everyone knows, blows hot and cold. Doing well at one tournament is not an indicator of what will come next.

Ons Jabeur, who made such a strong statement of her prowess at Wimbledon and has been a thorn in the side of elite players such as Iga Swiatek this year, is a really good tennis player who seems poised to remain a quarterfinal-or-semifinal factor at 1,000-point tournaments, possibly the majors as well, in 2022.

Paula Badosa? She is the hardest player to pin down among the four semifinalists in terms of projecting a career arc in the coming year. She made a very deep run in Madrid. She won a memorable slugfest against Ana Bogdan at Roland Garros en route to the quarterfinals. She also crashed out of Canada and the U.S. Open early.

Will this Indian Wells run become a moment when Paula Badosa turned the corner? We don’t know, but she has invited the question and given her career a chance to acquire new and substantially more positive dimensions.

The notion of harnessing power — reining in strokes and knowing when to play various shots — is not unique to her. It applies to many players on tour. Badosa showed in her win over Kerber a level of patience she hasn’t regularly displayed. She has defeated both Kerber and Barbora Krejcikova, two major champions with considerable courtcraft, in consecutive matches.

Is the light coming on? Are all the pieces coming together? Paula Badosa is clearly growing and evolving at the central tennis art of harnessing her skills. It will be fascinating to see if this process of taming her game — so that she can unleash it at the right moments — will lead to an explosive and even bigger breakout in 2022.

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