PARIS, France - Six players will break new ground next week at Roland Garros by contesting the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time. Get to know more about them here at wtatennis.com.
Irina Bara (ROU)
In the wake of Simona Halep's success, a new generation of Romanians is surging. Back in 2018, Irina Bara cited the former World No.1 as an inspiration, telling 30-0.ro, "Everyone should look up to her - I wish I could achieve half of what she has achieved."
This week, the five-foot-four 25-year-old - whose appreciation of Halep is not just down to nationality but height as a fellow smaller player - took another step towards that goal by successfully navigating Grand Slam qualifying for the first time. World No.142 Bara, who first cracked the Top 200 in July 2017 and reached her maiden WTA quarterfinal in Jurmala last year, entered Roland Garros fresh off the biggest final of her career to date at the Cagnes-sur-Mer ITF W80 event, where she notched up a sixth Top 100 win over Varvara Gracheva before falling to Sara Sorribes Tormo.
That lifted her to three spots off the career-high ranking of World No.139 that Bara set in August 2018, and set the tone for an efficient qualifying campaign in which she took down Tereza Mrdeza, Harriet Dart and Richel Hogenkamp without dropping a set. Another of Bara's heroines is Justine Henin, and she'll be able to test herself on the ground where her inspirations thrived against No.26 seed Donna Vekic in the first round. Not that it will be totally new territory for her: Bara was a doubles quarterfinalist at Roland Garros back in 2018, partnering Mihaela Buzarnescu.
Elsa Jacquemot (FRA)
Junior World No.6 Elsa Jacquemot turned heads on her debut in Roland Garros qualifying last year when, as a 16-year-old No.868-ranked wildcard, she stunned 2017 Istanbul quarterfinalist Basak Eraydin 6-3, 6-1 in the first round. Jacquemot went on to reach the quarterfinals of the junior event, and since returning to pro level at the end of 2019 has continued to hold her own, posting a series of results that have seen last year's Roland Garros pass upgraded to a main draw wildcard this year.
Those included two ITF W25 quarterfinal runs, in Saint-Etienne last November and Grenoble this February, and a memorable appearance in the qualifying rounds of Jacquemot's hometown tournament in Lyon, where she battled for three hours and 13 minutes before falling 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 7-5 to Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove. Now 17, Jacquemot's rise has continued since the resumption: last week, she scored her maiden Top 100 win over Nina Stojanovic in the first round of the Cagnes-sur-Mer ITF W80 event, a result that has lifted the teenager to a career high of World No.522.
Kamilla Rakhimova (RUS)
Though a former Top 20 junior who rocketed from World No.890 to World No.201 over the course of 2019 while racking up five ITF Pro Circuit titles, the 19-year-old Kamilla Rakhimova remains under the radar. If her recent performances are anything to go by, though, that won't be the case for long.
Rakhimova delivered one of the most resilient performances in qualifying this week with her second-round upset of No.1 seed Ann Li, a career-best win by ranking that saw the Russian fail to close out the first set despite holding nine set points, including four in a row at 6-2 in the first-set tiebreak - but nonetheless hold firm to eventually triumph 6-7(12), 7-6(4), 6-4. It's all the more impressive considering the teenager's lack of experience at this level: Rakhimova had previously played just four matches at WTA main draw or qualifying level, and lost them all - though the most recent, in St. Petersburg in February, did see her stretch former World No.25 Timea Babos all the way to a third-set tiebreak.
Now ranked World No.190, 12 places off the career-high she set just before the Tour shutdown, Rakhimova's quest for a first main draw win will begin against US Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers.
Making History💪🇪🇬— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) September 23, 2020
Mayar Sherif becomes the first woman representing Egypt to win a Grand Slam match!
Mayar Sherif (EGY)
This week, Mayar Sherif broke new ground not just for herself but for her country, qualifying to become the first Egyptian woman ever to compete in the main draw of a Grand Slam. It's a remarkable historic accomplishment which comes hot on the heels of Sherif's WTA main draw debut as a qualifier in Prague last month - which made her the second Egyptian ever to compete at that level following Marwa Elwany, a wildcard into the short-lived WTA Tour stop in Cairo in 1999 - but the 24-year-old has been building a head of steam towards this moment for a while.
A Top 50 junior who posted wins over future Top 100 players Maria Sakkari and Paula Badosa on the ITF Pro Circuit as a 17-year-old, Sherif's path took her first to college - a financial necessity, she told writer Reem Abulleil for The Guardian last year, because she could afford neither the costs of training at a Spanish academy nor travel. But when she emerged last year with a degree from Pepperdine University in sports medicine and an award-winning college tennis career under her belt, Sherif's pro dream hadn't died. Instead, she told Abulleil she was in "a state of hunger - hungry for matches, hungry to reach a certain level."
That much was evident in an astonishing 2019 season. Having started unranked and competing in ITF W15 qualifying, Sherif rocketed to a year-end position of World No.212 thanks to six ITF Pro Circuit titles and an overall 71-17 win-loss record - including a spectacular 26-match, 45-set winning streak between April and July. This enabled her to make her Grand Slam qualifying debut at the Australian Open in January, where she lost in the first round to Ann Li - but second time round, merely appearing in the draw wasn't enough.
Now ranked World No.172, two spots off the career high of World No.170 - the highest position ever for an Egyptian on the WTA rankings - she hit in August, Sherif delivered one of the most dominant performances of the week over some of the toughest opponents. The Cairo native dropped just 14 games - the joint-least of any qualifier - in three matches against two talented teenagers, 2019 US Open junior champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and No.2 seed Caty McNally, and Italian veteran Giulia Gatto-Monticone. Her reward will be a big-stage debut against the main draw's No.2 seed, Karolina Pliskova.
Clara Tauson (DEN)
Denmark's trailblazing former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki may have hung up her racquets at the start of this year, but there's already a new Dane in town. Clara Tauson has been bubbling under for a while now: the Hellerup native won the third ITF Pro Circuit tournament of her career at the age of 14 in Stockholm in 2017, and went on to win 34 of her first 39 professional matches, culminating in successfully qualifying for her WTA main draw debut in Lugano last year, where she lost to Evgeniya Rodina in a 6-7(2), 6-2, 7-5 nailbiter.
Along the way, Tauson - whose bedrock game consists of smooth power off both wings, but also possesses solid hand skills and versatility - picked up the 2019 Australian Open girls' crown, defeating Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-1 in the final, and she would rocket from World No.863 to World No.267 over the course of the year while compiling a 39-12 win-loss record and collecting four ITF Pro Circuit titles. The 17-year-old has shown little sign of slowing down in 2020, both before and since the Tour shutdown: in February, she defeated Anna-Lena Friedsam en route to her sixth ITF trophy, and since returning has won 14 out of 16 matches so far, including a career-best win over Sara Errani at the Prague 125K last month.
This week, Tauson survived a stern three-set test against the idiosyncratic left-hander Gabriela Talaba in the first round of qualifying, before dismissing No.6 seed Elisabetta Cocciaretto for the lost of just three games and saving six set points in the first set to quell Ivana Jorovic 7-6(5), 6-4. Next, in her first WTA-level main draw since her Lugano debut, it only gets tougher: the teenager will be up against one of the most in-form players of 2020 off the bat, US Open semifinalist Jennifer Brady.
Renata Zarazua (MEX)
One of the most exciting WTA Tour runs prior to tennis's pandemic pause was Renata Zarazua's surge into the Acapulco semifinals in February - not only because it was her first appearance in the last four of a WTA tournament via a maiden Top 50 victory over Sloane Stephens, but also due to the Mexican fans' enthusiastic response to a hometown heroine snapping a long drought for the sport. The country has hosted two WTA stops for the past decade, in Acapulco and Monterrey - and the crowd had clearly been waiting for a breakthrough like Zarazua's all that time.
That run made the 22-year-old the first Mexican WTA semifinalist since former World No.34 Angelica Gavaldon at San Juan in 1993. In an interview with Stephanie Livaudais for wtatennis.com, Zarazua credited it to a revamped coaching team led by her older brother Patricio - something she was able to put in place with the aid of the ITF's Grand Slam Development Fund - and following the Tour's resumption, she fortunately been able to pick up where she left off.
Zarazua has gone 10-3 since returning to action, including a 6-0, 7-6 defeat of Eugenie Bouchard in the Prague 125K last month and a 6-4, 7-6(7) win over Barbora Krejcikova, again in the Czech capital, en route to the ITF W25 final three weeks ago. Those results have propelled the Mexico City native to a career-high ranking of World No.178 and a fine performance this week in her fourth Grand Slam qualifying event.
Having not won a match in three previous appearances at this level, Zarazua needed to come from a set down to quell Olga Danilovic 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the first round before posting straight-set wins over Viktoriya Tomova and Daniela Seguel to become the first Mexican woman in a Grand Slam main draw since Gavaldon's final major at the 2000 Australian Open, and just the fourth in the Open Era following Gavaldon, who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 1990 and 1995 (both times as a qualifier), 1968 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Elena Subirats and Patricia Montano. Zarazua's reward is a date with the lowest-ranked player in the main draw, 17-year-old wildcard Elsa Jacquemot.
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