By HOWARD FENDRICH
PARIS — Grand Slam defeats of high-ranking, well-known and accomplished players against lower-ranking, lesser-known and less accomplished opponents provide a rare opportunity for these unheralded winners to enjoy the limelight.
And for the first time in almost half a century, only three of the 10 seeds in the women’s draw at Roland-Garros have qualified for the round of 16.
So here is Leolia Jeanjean: 26 years old; from Montpellier, France; ranked 227th; a wild-card entry after having never participated in the Slam; apparently destined as a child for big things in tennis, so much so that there were sponsorship deals before she was high school age, until a knee injury derails things. She left the sport for a few years and eventually moved to the United States, where she played college tennis at Baylor, then Arkansas, then Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, while continuing her studies in finance. At Lynn, she went undefeated in both singles and doubles, so it occurred to her that a professional career might be worth a try.
Good choice for Jeanjean. Bad for her opponents so far at Roland Garros, including two-time major finalist and No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova, who couldn’t offer much resistance on Thursday and was beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Jeanjean in the second round on Thursday.
“Even I don’t have an explanation. I don’t even realize what’s going on,” Jeanjean said. “It’s my first Grand Slam. I thought I would have lost in the first round in straight sets – and I found myself beating a top 10 player. So honestly I have nothing more to say . I don’t really know how that’s possible.”
A year ago around this time, she was ranked outside the top 800 and earning hundreds of dollars at low-level International Tennis Federation events. Whatever happens in her next game, she will 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, ever since I was good when I was 14, 15, I’m like, ‘Why can’t I be good 10 years later?’ That’s why, yes, I (took a) chance. And so far, it’s working.”
Asked if he too was stunned by all this, Jeanjean’s coach for three months, Thomas Delgado, quickly answered, bluntly: “No”. And then he laughed, before continuing: “Well, yes, I am. … On the one hand, I’m surprised that she did. But on the other, I knew that she could.”
Also gone was No. 9 Danielle Collins, an Australian Open runner-up in January, knocked out by 50th-placed Shelby Rogers 6-4, 6-3 in a match between the Americans.
According to the WTA, the last time three or fewer female seeds qualified for the Round of 16 at Roland Garros was in 1976; at that time, only eight players were initially rated in a field of 64, half the tournament’s current size.
Pliskova and Collins joined No. 2 Barbora Krejcikova – the 2021 champion who was beaten in the first round on Monday, then pulled from doubles because she tested positive for COVID-19 – No. 4 Maria Sakkari, No. 5 Anett Kontaveit, No. 6 Ons Jabeur and No. 10 Garbiñe Muguruza, all gone on Wednesday.
The remaining trio, all in the top half of the group, won second-round matches on Thursday: No. 1 Iga Swiatek ran her winning streak to 30 games, the longest in women’s tennis since Serena Williams played 34 games in 2013, beating Alison Riske 6-0, 6-2; No. 3 Paula Badosa recovered from a half-match timeout to edge past Kaja Juvan 7-5, 3-6, 6-2; No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka beat Madison Brengle 6-1, 6-3.
“I could be like, ‘Wow, that’s good, because they’re losing.’ But in this case, I’m more like, ‘OK, be careful, because anything can happen,'” said Badosa, a quarter-finalist in Paris a year ago. “You saw him today.”
The men’s draw certainly saw some excitement – including five-set wins after losing match point to No. 3 Alexander Zverev and No. 6 Carlos Alcaraz on Wednesday – but the top 12 seeds high qualified for the third round, the first. the time that has passed at Roland-Garros since 2009, according to the ATP.
No4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, Novak Djokovic’s runner-up at Roland Garros last year, saved four set points after trailing 6-2 in the final tiebreaker before sidelining the 134th-placed qualified Zdenek Kolar 6-3, 7-6(8), 6-7(3), 7-6(6) in a 4 hour, 6 minute tussle Thursday night.
Kolar had never won a tour-level match until this week, but his relentless ball tracking left Tsitsipas to acknowledge at the end: “He drove me crazy. Yeah, that was really frustrating. … Not easy . Not easy.”
Pliskova was ranked No. 1, was a runner-up at Wimbledon last year and the US Open in 2016, and reached the Roland Garros semi-finals in 2017.
“One thing is, of course, how I played,” Pliskova said, “and I think (the) other thing is how she played.”
Jeanjean led 2-1 before collecting nine consecutive games, displaying some of the strategic intelligence that Delgado hailed as one of her greatest attributes, saying, “She knows where to play, how to play, when to play.”
Has always. Caroline Garcia, a French player who was once ranked No. 4, knew Jeanjean at the time. They were doubles teammates at a series of youth events in Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Italy in 2010, when Garcia was 16 and Jeanjean was 14.
“She was like the best of the best when she was 10, 12, and everyone thought she was going to be amazing. And then she completely disappeared. … Now she’s making her way again,” Garcia said, “and she can prove to everybody, like, if you believe in it, you can do it.”