As difficult as it might be to recognize your teenage self from the vantage point of a mature adult, some traits are forever ingrained. The French Open provides a number of examples.
Nearly a half-century ago, Mima Jausovec won the junior girls title at Roland Garros and three years later claimed the 1977 women’s championship. Hana Mandlikova and Jennifer Capriati managed the same feat. In 1997, a freshly minted 15-year-old from Belgium named Justine Henin won juniors in Paris – and then, six years later, proceeded to win four titles in the City of Lights. A decade after Simona Halep broke through with the Roland Garros junior crown, she scored her personal double in 2018.
Some other former junior French Open champions hoping one day to do the same: Elina Svitolina (2010), Ons Jabeur (2011), Belinda Bencic (2013), Daria Kasatkina (2014), Paula Badosa (2015), Coco Gauff (2018), Leylah Fernandez (2019) and Linda Noskova (2021). At the age of 17, Noskova qualified for this year’s main draw, becoming the youngest Czech Republic player to play a major main since Nicole Vaidisova in the 2006 US Open.
Perhaps the former champion with the best opportunity this year is the No.6-seeded Jabeur, who meets Magda Linette on Sunday in a first-round match. Jabeur comes into Paris with some serious momentum, leading all Hologic WTA Tour players with 17 clay-court wins. She had a terrific run in Rome, reaching the final with five quality wins before falling to Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-2. She’s also No.2 to Swiatek in the Porsche Race standings for the season.
While last season constituted a breakthrough for the 27-year-old Tunisian player, she has yet to see that same spark at the majors. She has never advanced past the quarterfinals – the 2020 Australian Open and Wimbledon 2021 – and her best results at Roland Garros are the fourth rounds of the past two years. Still, those 17 wins on clay inspire optimism. Two years ago, Jabeur won a total of three matches on clay but that number rose to 13 a year ago.
“It helps me a lot confidence-wise, expectation-wise,” Jabeur said last Sunday after the Rome final. “It helps me be tougher with myself. I need to be in the second week. I need to go above the other results I did in Grand Slams.”
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Her diverse game is reflected in the statistical categories she leads: winners (852), forehand winners (486), backhand winners (260), successful net approaches (196) and successful drop shots (103). She’s won 11 of 12 previous matches and enjoys a 3-1 head-to-head advantage over Linette.
Jabeur is part of a loaded third quarter that also includes No.4 seed Maria Sakkari and No.10 Garbiñe Muguruza. Add five major champions into that mix – Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Bianca Andreescu and Emma Raducanu – and it’s clear Jabeur will have to do some heavy lifting to reach the second week.
No.10 Garbiñe Muguruza versus Kaia Kanepi: This one could be a lot closer than the rankings suggest. Kanepi, the 36-year-old from Estonia, has a history of springing upsets. Just ask Aryna Sabalenka. Kanepi took out the No.2 seed at this year’s Australian Open, winning their Round of 16 match in a third-set tiebreak, 10-7. Kanepi is having a nice season, with a 17-7 record. Muguruza, meanwhile, has struggled since winning the WTA Finals in Guadalajara. She’s 7-8, coming off a round-of-16 loss to Martina Trevisan in Rabat, Morocco. Muguruza won their only meeting in three sets, but that was eight years ago in the first round of the Australian Open.
By the numbers
The 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens captured all five of her matches to win her seventh career title earlier this year in Guadalajara. But she’s gone 1-6 in her other six tournaments in 2022. On Sunday she plays 22-year-old German qualifier Jule Niemeier, who is ranked at No.103, exactly 50 spots below Stephens.
And finally …
Even with the French Open’s system of spreading the first round across the first three days, opening day offers some sturdy substance. Nine seeds are in play, including three from the top 10: No. 4 Maria Sakkari, No.6 Ons Jabeur and No.10 Garbiñe Muguruza. Teenagers Leylah Fernandez and Coco Gauff, seeded Nos.17 and 18, are also in action, as is Olympic gold medalist No.14 Belinda Bencic.