At surprise-filled French Open, tennis prodigy makes good
PARIS (AP) — Grand Slam losses by high-ranked, well-known and accomplished players to, well, lower-ranked, lesser-known and less-accomplished opponents offer a rare opportunity for those unheralded winners to enjoy the spotlight.
And for the first time in nearly a half-century, just three of the top 10 seeds in the French Open women’s draw made it to the round of 32.
So meet Leolia Jeanjean: age 26; from Montpellier, France; ranked 227th; a wild-card entry after never before being a Slam participant; seemingly destined as a kid for great things in tennis, so much so that there were sponsorship deals before she was old enough to attend high school, until, that is, an injured knee derailed things. She left the sport for a couple of years, wound up moving to the U.S., where she played college tennis at Baylor, then Arkansas, then Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, while pursuing her studies in finance. At Lynn, she went unbeaten in singles and doubles, so it occurred to her maybe a professional career was worth a try.
Good choice for Jeanjean. Bad one for her foes so far at Roland Garros, including Karolina Pliskova, a two-time major finalist and the No. 8 seed, who was unable to offer much resistance Thursday and was beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Jeanjean in the second round on Thursday.
“Even me, I don’t have an explanation. I don’t even realize what’s happening,” Jeanjean said. “It’s my first Grand Slam. I thought I would have lost in the first round in two sets — and I found myself beating a top-10 player. So, honestly, I have nothing else to say. I don’t really know how it’s possible.”
A year ago at this time, she was ranked outside the top 800 and winning hundreds of dollars at low-level International Tennis Federation events. No matter what happens in her next match, she’ll leave Paris with at least 125,000 euros ($135,000).
“When I stopped playing when I was young, I just wanted to give myself another chance,” Jeanjean said. “because in my head, since I was good when I was like 14, 15, I’m like, ‘Why can’t I be good 10 years later?’ So that’s why, yeah, I (took a) chance. And so far it’s working.”
Asked whether he also was stunned by it all, Jeanjean’s coach of three months, Thomas Delgado, quickly replied, straight-faced: “No.” And then he chuckled, before continuing: “Well, yes, I am. … On one side, I’m surprised she did it. But on the other, I knew she could.”