PARIS, France - Clara Tauson's Grand Slam debut proved to be one to remember as the teenage qualifier, playing just her second Tour match, saved two match points to stun No.21 seed Jennifer Brady 6-4, 3-6, 9-7 in a two-hour, 45-minute first-round clash at Roland Garros - the third-longest of the tournament so far.
The 17-year-old, whose only previous appearance at WTA level was as a qualifier in Lugano last year, where she fell to Evgeniya Rodina in three sets in the first round, today showcased not only a superbly well-balanced game that enabled her to both withstand and overpower one of the heaviest hitters on tour, totalling 48 winners to Brady's 39, but also nerves of steel in a thrillingly tight climax. Tauson would need to save double match point serving at 5-6 in the decider - and then hold firm after missing three of her own serving for the win at 7-6, eventually taking her fifth.
"We played an amazing match today, probably the highest-quality tennis I’ve ever played in my life," Tauson told rolandgarros.com afterwards. She admitted that she had not entered the match with high expectations - indeed, that she had been just happy to be there. "I was just grateful to be there and just happy that I could play a girl like her on a big court. It was a dream come true, of course, and then winning the match, I don’t have any words yet. It was so great, I’ve never really experienced a match like that."
The Dane has been tipped for great things throughout a stellar junior career that culminated in the 2019 Australian Open girls' title; Tauson, who has already racked up seven ITF Pro Circuit trophies, was unranked as recently as last March, but her surge up the rankings has been meteoric ever since, with a 27-5 win-loss record this year - including three wins last week in her first ever Grand Slam qualifying attempt - lifting her inside the Top 200 this month. Her reward was a tough one, though: Brady, who made her maiden semifinal appearance at a major at the US Open three weeks ago, has been one of the most improved players of 2020, building a 22-7 record of her own this season, including victories over Ashleigh Barty, Garbiñe Muguruza and Angelique Kerber.
Over the course of a compelling contest, Tauson - the third-youngest player in the main draw following 16-year-old Coco Gauff and 17-year-old wildcard Elsa Jacquemot - impressed both with her game and then with her rock-solid mentality. The World No.188 faced break points in her first two service games, but came up with forehand winners to save both - before capturing the Brady serve for a 3-1 lead, taking her fifth break point with a smart move forwards and neat volley putaway.
The former junior World No.1, whose only previous Tour-level appearance was as a qualifier in Lugano last April, where she fell in three sets to Evgeniya Rodina, was displaying not just smooth power but a well-balanced game overall. Though her forehand was her preferred finishing stroke, Tauson was equally capable of opening up the court with her backhand and comfortable in the forecourt. In total, the first set would see her find 18 winners to Brady's 10.
But she would ultimately win the set with her fortitude: after Brady located some fierce forehands of her own en route to level the score and then held four break points to move ahead 4-3, it seemed as though the more experienced player was on her way to the turnaround.
Tauson, though, had other ideas: the teenager fended all four off before sealing a tough hold with an emphatic smash. Leading 5-4, she continued to put Brady on the back foot, making her way to set point courtesy of a pair of fine down-the-line strikes off each wing and, in a canny switchup, a clean dropshot winner.
To this point, Brady had kept a tight ship in terms of her unforced errors: the netted backhand down set point was just her seventh of the set. But it was all it took to see it slip from her grasp, and the 25-year-old immediately bounced her racquet in frustration.
Brady's 2020 rise has featured a strong dose of resilience, though, and the Lexington champion made a strong recovery in the second set. Upping her first serve percentage from 56% to 67%, Brady racked up service winners and one-two punches, and faced just two break points against her in this frame, and found her best serves to save both and move up 5-3.
The World No.25 also did a superb job of piling the pressure on her opponent during the youngster's service games. Tauson was thriving in the longer exchanges which found her moving Brady relentlessly around the court - so Brady took them out of her hands by upping the ante on return, a tactic that garnered her an immediate break in the opening game. Tauson, who needed to take an off-court medical timeout midway through the set, was by now struggling with inconsistency, tallying 13 winners to 13 unforced errors - and, serving to stay in the second act, found both her volleys and her forehand going awry to get broken a second time.
Both players hit their straps as the decider got under way: four straight authoritative love holds took the scoreline to 3-2. It was the younger player who wobbled first, conceding the first break of the set with a handful of groundstroke errors - but some fine, creative claycourt tennis, including a moonball-dropshot combination, enabled her to break straight back as Brady's forehand also lost its accuracy. In the seventh game, Tauson continued to showcase some special talent, fending off two break points and coming up with a phenomenal angled pass from the most awkward of positions en route to levelling at 4-4.
As the match headed into overtime, the margins grew ever thinner. Tauson, serving second, nearly paid the price for a handful of loose forehands at 5-6 - but a service winner and booming crosscourt off the same wing fended off double match point, and three games later the Copenhagen native would get a chance to serve for the win after breaking Brady with a booming backhand crosscourt.
Tauson was agonisingly close to sealing the win here: on her second match point, a putative backhand winner was long by inches, and on a third her response to a bold Brady dropshot just failed to clear the net. But down break point, she was unable to hit through some spectacular defence from the American, shanking a final backhand into the ground to see her chance slip by.
In light of that passage of play, it was even more impressive that Tauson remained virtually unflappable - and committed to her raking, aggressive shotmaking. Brady, redoubling her efforts, continued to seek to overwhelm Tauson with sheer weight of shot as well as finding some superb defensive gets, and it took the teenager three break points before a netted Brady backhand garnered her another break for 8-7.
This time, Tauson would be able to close - though the match remained on a knife-edge to the end, with Brady's quality continuing to threaten another comeback. Tauson needed to fend off a break-back point with an off forehand winner and saw a fourth match point vanish in the smoke of a blitzed Brady backhand winner before finally sealing her fifth with a service winner.