Misc Tennis

French Open 2024: Sabalenka and Badosa are fierce rivals on court — and close friends off it

French Open 2024: Sabalenka and Badosa are fierce rivals on court -- and close friends off it

PARIS — The two best friends stood 5 meters apart in the tunnel before walking out onto Court Philippe Chatrier as foes. Paula Badosa and Aryna Sabalenka are inseparable off the court, but when it came to their third-round match at the French Open, for two or so hours, they went into match mode.

It was time to “separate court and life,” Sabalenka said.

During the match, no words were exchanged. The two become strangers in this arena. But there were signs of trust — the unsaid ties of friendship. At the end of the first game in the second set, Badosa was a break point down. She hit a forehand long; it was marginal. If it was out, she’d be on the back foot already in the second set, having lost the first.

Sabalenka signaled it was long, and that was enough for Badosa, who — rather than wait and challenge or get clarification from the umpire — was already walking back to her seat.

They know each other incredibly well off the court but also on it. They’ve played six times over their careers, with Sabalenka leading 4-2 coming into Saturday’s match.

Ons Jabeur, also a close friend of the pair, said Friday that she was expecting respect but also for it to be a match where they both came into it with an attitude of “bring it on, show me what you got, and let’s see how it’s going to go,” Jabeur said.

But this went to form. After a topsy-turvy first set with seven breaks of serve, Sabalenka retuned the radar on her forehand and powered past Badosa 7-5, 6-1.

“It’s very tough; we have to separate things. I try not to watch the other side and just bring my best game,” Sabalenka said on court after the match.

“I do the same,” Badosa said later in the news conference. “I don’t really look at the other side. I just look at my box and myself.”

Their friendship started at an exhibition match three years ago in Los Angeles, then became stronger after they played doubles at the Miami Open that same year.

They’re regulars on each other’s Instagram accounts, but they’ve also been there for one another through tough times. As Badosa came back from a stress fracture in her…

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