Spain’s Paula Badosa, ranked 71, stunned the World No 1 Ash Barty at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston on Friday night in straight sets to reach the biggest semi-final of her career at the WTA 500 event.
I know I’m playing the World No 1, and she’s an amazing player, but I’m on a clay court, I know how to play on clay courts, I like to play on clay courts. I knew I had to focus on myself, and of course, if she was better than me today, that could be a possibility, so I’d just have to accept it. But at least I tried to do my game, my serve, my forehand, my backhand, and focus on me, and that’s what I did. Paula Badosa
“I can’t believe it. I still can’t believe I just beat the No. 1 in the world,” the Spaniard said in her on-court interview. “I was nervous, but I served very well, and I think that was the key of the match.
“It was a tough match, but I was there until the last moment.”
Also gone from the draw in straight sets are Coco Gauff and Sloane Stephens, who fell at the hands of Ons Jabeur and Veronika Kudermetova, seeded 13 and 15 respectively, while completing the last 4 line-up is Danka Kovinic, a 3-set winner over Yulia Putintseva.
On a day full of surprises, Badosa broke Barty’s serve 5 times en route to her 6-4 6-3 victory over the top seed, out-acing the WTA’s leading server in the process.
“I’m still a little bit shocked. I can’t believe what just happened,” the 23-year-old Badosa said. “When the ball went out, I was like, ‘What just happened right now?’ ”
The 23-year-old Spaniard, a former French Open junior champion, took out the No 5 seed and World No 12 Belinda Bencic in the second round earlier in the week on Charleston’s green clay, and has now scored her first 2 wins over top 20 players.
It is the second time in her past 4 events that Badosa has advanced to the semi-finals where she will face Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova on Saturday for a spot in the championship final.
Barty was coming off winning the title at the Miami Open last Saturday on hard courts, and looked to have transitioned well enough to the clay in her first two matches in Charleston, but she fell behind Badosa and struggled to handle her opponent’s serve.
Despite the defeat, the ever-optimistic Barty said she was glad for the run that took her this far in preparation for the French Open.
“I think it’s been a collective over the last three weeks of playing a lot of matches, which is always a good problem to have,” Barty reflected laster. “But without a doubt I had to adjust the way I approached this match.
“I had to be super aggressive, and all in all, I think, it was way too many risks. But it’s been an exceptional three weeks to start off our trip, and I’ll take nothing but the positives from it.”
Badosa saved a stunning 12 of the 14 break points she faced over the course of 76 minutes, and set the tone early as she saved a pair in her first service game of the match.
Barty nearly drew level in the opener after falling in a 5-2 hole, twice building 0-40 leads as Badosa served for a one-set lead.
Although she successfully broke serve in the 8th game, the Aussie was unable to repeat the feat in the 10th, and Badosa finally secured the opener after nearly three-quarters of an hour.
“I had a game plan, and I changed it a little bit because I didn’t know how she played, exactly,” Badosa said. “Of course, I’ve been seeing her a lot of times before, but I never played against her, so I didn’t know exactly how the ball was going to come.
“I was quite intense with returns. I knew I had to be, because she serves very good, she changes the serve a lot, she mixes it up, so I knew I had to be very focused on my returns.
“Then, of course, I think I served very well.
“That was the key of the match, because I [was] a lot of break points down, but then I could do a good serve, so I am quite happy about that.
“I think that I was intense on the first two or three balls against her, and I think that was very important today.”
They traded breaks in the first 2 games of the second, and denied each other 2 break chances in the 5th and 6th games before Badosa pulled away, riding the momentum of her hold for 3-3 to ultimately win the last 4 games of the match.
“She’s an amazing player,” Badosa added. “At the beginning, maybe I was a little bit surprised by the forehand, it was quite fast, and she served very well, and the slice doesn’t bounce, so it was quite tough for me to get used to her game.
As Badosa got closer to the upset, she worried about Barty’s ability to fight back.
“Sometimes these matches are very tough to close,” Badosa said. “Today, I’m quite happy that I managed it well.”
The World No 71 is the lowest-ranked player to beat Barty since September 2019.
“My coach and I had been talking a lot this morning and [I was] trying to focus on myself,” Badosa said after the match. “I know I’m playing the World No 1, and she’s an amazing player, but I’m on a clay court, I know how to play on clay courts, I like to play on clay courts.
“I knew I had to focus on myself, and of course, if she was better than me today, that could be a possibility, so I’d just have to accept it.
“But at least I tried to do my game, my serve, my forehand, my backhand, and focus on me, and that’s what I did.
“She plays unbelievable. But I’m quite happy. I think when you play a player like that, the energy on court is different… your nerves are another thing.
“But I enjoyed every moment on court, and now I’m even happier that I could win.”
Though Barty nearly doubled Badosa’s total of winners in the match at 34 to 19, she also hit twice as many unforced errors as the Spaniard, 24 to 12.
In the end it was all about the big points, and Badosa was just too sharp on those, converting on 5 of her 10 break points in the match, while Barty took just 2 of her 14 break point opportunities.
As Barty heads for Europe, Badosa will prep to meet Veronika Kudermetova, who took out 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open finalist Sloane Stephens in the last quarter-final of the day, 6-3 6-4.
The Russian World No 38 has not dropped a set i this week, and more than tripled the American’s total of winners in the one and 33-minute quarter-final encounter to reach her second semi-final of the season.
“I really like to play on the clay because I think I have a lot of time to do what I want,” Kudermetova said on-court after the match.
“It’s the first time I beat a player who’s won a Grand Slam and I think that’s really important for me. I tried to play aggressive and not give her time, and I think that was the key for this match.”
Kudermetova jumped out to early 3-0 leads in each set, and never allowed Stephens a foothold in the match.
Stephens had 3 break points to level at 3-3 in the second set to erase a double-break deficit, but Kudermetova held strong on serve and was never threatened again.
Meanwhile, Danka Kovinic of Montenegro rallied after losing the first set to oust Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 6-7(2) 7-5 6-1, advancing the No 91 in the world to the semi-finals.
“I really think this clay suits me well,” she said. “I just feel really, really good here.”
Kovinic added to earlier victories over rising Canadian Leylah Fernandez and No 4 seed Petra Kvitova in booking her final-four spot where the 26-year old will face Ons Jabeur of Tunisia on Saturday for a spot in the trophy match, after the 12th seed defeated the youngest player in the field, 17-year-old American Coco Gauff, 6-3 6-3.
Gauff fell against Jabeur and later withdrew from her doubles match with a right hip injury.
Jabeur saved 10 of the 13 break points she faced, while converting 6 of her 9 opportunities.
“I gotta say the drop-shot saved me so many times in the match, in many important points,” she said. “The serve wasn’t here today, but I’m glad I got to break her so many times.
“I was trying to close up some angles with her, so she was a little bit confused. That helped me a lot to get a few double faults.
“For me, I was focusing on my game, changing the rhythm.
“So many close quarter-finals,” Jabeur continued. “I’m really glad that I got the win. I’m looking forward to playing my game, looking forward to going further as I can.”
All four semi-finalists are looking for their first career WTA titles.