Frenchwoman Léolia Jeanjean rewinds time

This is a name that the most advanced tennis aficionados had lost the habit of hearing. But the results of Léolia Jeanjean at Roland-Garros remind her of the good memories of world tennis. Clear winner of the Czech Karolina Pliskova, Thursday, May 26 (6-2, 6-2), the French qualified for the third round.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen like this againsmiled the player after the meeting, who is playing her very first Grand Slam tournament. It’s incredible to tell myself that I just won in straight sets against a former world number 1, currently top 10. I still have a lot of trouble realizing. » Because to reach the 2022 edition of Roland-Garros, the 26-year-old young woman has taken many cross roads.

Classified -4/6 at 12 years old, on the passage times of the Swiss prodigy Martina Hingis, the teenager was announced as the future star of tricolor tennis. National manager of physical preparation at the French Tennis Federation, Paul Quetin remembers a young girl with “a lot of temperament, she was already a matchmaker. She was a bit of the little darling at the CNE [centre national d’entraînement], she practiced with the boys from time to time…”

A life “a little in every way”

Cherished by the federation as much as by sponsors smelling the good vein, Léolia Jeanjean was on the rails which were to lead her to the firmament of world tennis. But, following a badly diagnosed then poorly treated knee injury at the age of 14, the ascent came to an abrupt halt. “I haven’t played for two years”says the player.

Convinced by her parents of the importance of studies, she flew to the United States, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in “wealth investment finance.” » “All this has nothing to do with smiled the player. Like my life, in fact: it goes a little in all directions. » Like her game, the variety of shots left Karolina Pliskova disarmed.

Léolia Jeanjean has never stopped believing in it. “I took a different path at 18. I left to study, but I always wanted to play”, she assured after her first victorious round. Don’t regret, don’t stay haunted by a ” and if ? » seeing the players she dominated, younger, shine in Grand Slams. She has always kept the idea of [se] give a second chance”.

At 24, ten years after quitting tennis – even though she played university tournaments – she returned to the circuit. Like cycling, tennis cannot be forgotten. Just dive back into it. “But physically, I had to work”, breathes the young woman. After a serious injury and several years of life on campus in the United States, she had to force herself to get back into shape. “I had gained weight in the United States and I did not train muchsays the player. When I resumed, it was quite complicated to keep up the pace, to chain the matches… ”

Invitation “on merit”

His preparation for Roland-Garros began a year and a half ago, when he returned to the circuit. “In her head, every day, her objective was only Roland, she did countless tournaments to try to get the wild card at the Race”, says his coach, Thomas Delgado, at his side for three months. The French Tennis Federation has indeed distributed two invitations “on merit”rewarding performance in French tournaments, to Léolia Jeanjean (227and worldwide) and Grégoire Barrere.

“It’s only my second year on the circuit, even though I’m 26 years old. Mentally, it’s like I’m 19. I’m totally new to it”recalls the Frenchwoman, who was pointing at 1,180and world rank at the start of 2021. At the time of speaking into a microphone in front of an audience of journalists, perhaps. But on the field, she is no beginner. On the almost full Simonne-Mathieu court despite the “morning” hour, the Frenchwoman never seemed under tension.

“Forty-five minutes before the match, we had to crack a few good jokes, it was complicated, we have to reassure her, she’s afraid of doing something wrong, nuances his trainer. To have done this today, it amazes me. But her level of play and her tactical phases, she shows them to me in training. »

Her opponent, Pliskova, eighth player in the world, never seemed on her plate Thursday, chaining unforced errors in forehand. Already in the first round, against the French Tessa Andrianjafitrimo, the great Czech had already shown herself in difficulty (2-6, 6-3, 6-1). “We knew we had a chance, that it was not the Pliskova in great shape. We saw her against Tessa, she wasn’t moving very well, notes Thomas Delgado. The key to the match was the start of the game and Leo got into it perfectly. »

“Maybe I have the level to be in their place”

After the meeting, Léolia Jeanjean confessed her surprise to see [son] game bother so much » his opponents. “In the first round, against the top 50, I didn’t expect to win. Today, even less, she explains. I thought I would be overtaken, that I was going to take winning shots in all directions, and in the end, it is not the case. »

Even in service, Karolina Pliskova did not manage to unseat the Frenchwoman. “I’m very surprised, but at the same time, very happy, because it means, finally, that I may have the level to be in their place too! » What type of match did she deliver against the former world number one? “I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect match, because afterwards I don’t have a job, laughs Delgado, co-founder of the Smash It Tennis Academy. There are things to review but it stays between us. The goal was, in a match, to let go of everything and then we see what happens. »

Qualified for the third round of Roland-Garros – where she will face the Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu -, Léolia Jeanjean will jump up the rankings and is now aiming for the Top 100. “It will change everything, notes the player, who depended on the RSA when she resumed her career. I will be able to leave Europe, travel far, make long journeys, do long tours, accompanied. » Roland-Garros is only one stage in this already winning return.

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