Beatriz Haddad Maia and the paradox of inverted balance

Beatriz Haddad Maia has played more tournaments in 2022 than most of the top players on the WTA Tour. She filled her calendar in the weeks before Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She played a few 125s, the tournaments which are not Challengers but are still a notch below the main tour. She had to qualify for multiple tournaments this season, including Madrid. Haddad Maia spent the first few months of the year inhabiting the world of the toiling tennis player, the pro for whom taking weeks off isn’t a realistic option.

Top-20 players can and do structure their years around the 1,000-point tournaments and the majors. They have enough money to not have to chase modest-size paychecks at smaller tournaments. They put themselves in a position to do well at the events which have the biggest purses and the most prestige.

For a player ranked No. 88 as Haddad Maia was in January of 2022, the reality is not the same. Getting into 56-player 1,000-point tournaments is a challenge. Accumulating the points needed to move up the rankings leaderboard and into the top 50 — where qualifying for bigger tournaments is less of a worry — becomes a focus. This is exactly why Haddad Maia played a few 125s earlier this year. She didn’t have the luxury of resting and lining up her schedule to accommodate the majors.

Yet, in a stroke of unexpected or — perhaps this is the better term — unconventional luck, Haddad Maia did not do well at the majors in 2022.

Wait a minute: That’s lucky? Doesn’t seem like it.

Here’s the explanation: Haddad Maia has played more tournaments than most of the top-tier players on the WTA Tour in 2022. Her opponent in the Toronto final, Simona Halep, certainly hasn’t played a 125 this year. The players she beat to make the final — 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez, two-time Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek, Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic, and multiple major runner-up Karolina Pliskova — certainly haven’t played 125s in 2022, either.

How has Haddad Maia, with her noticeably larger number of tournaments played, managed to make her first 1,000-point final and have plenty in the fuel tank this week in Canada, at a point when a lot of other tour pros lose steam following the busy clay-to-grass transition period which takes so much out of many tennis practitioners?

This is where the unconventional luck enters the picture.

By losing early at each of the first three majors she played this season, Haddad Maia has received long breaks. Getting 10 to 12 days off, as a consequence of bowing out early in a two-week tournament, is precisely what enabled her to then stuff her schedule with lower-tier events, the events she has mastered in 2022 to build up her points and her game.

Haddad Maia’s surge recalls what Magdalena Rybarikova did in 2017, piling up match wins at smaller tournaments and then making a breakthrough at a bigger event to crack the top 20. Haddad Maia has rocketed to No. 16, with a chance to rise to No. 14 if she beats Simona Halep on Sunday in Toronto.

This meteoric rise was done without very many major-tournament wins. In fact, it was achieved precisely because Haddad Maia lost at the most prestigious tournaments in tennis. Those losses enabled her to play more tournaments and accumulate both victories and a lot of belief. Without those 125 wins and her match victories at the lead-in events before majors, Haddad Maia wouldn’t be here.

Such is the paradox of inverted balance in Beatriz Haddad Maia’s remarkable and unconventional 2022 season.

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