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 be like this again,” smiled the player after the game, who is playing her very first Grand Slam tournament. It’s incredible to think that I just won in two 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 passing 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 matcher. She was a bit of the little darling at the CNE [national training center], she trained with the boys from time to time…”

A life “a bit all over the place”

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 misdiagnosed and then badly 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 earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in “wealth investment finance.” “It has nothing to do with it,” smiled the player. Like my life, actually: it’s kind of all over the place. Like her game, the variety of shots left Karolina Pliskova disarmed.

Léolia Jeanjean never stopped believing in it. “I took a different path at 18. I left to study, but I always wanted to play, “she said after her first round victory. Don’t regret, don’t be haunted by a “what if?” ” seeing the players she dominated, younger, shine in Grand Slams. She always stuck to the idea of ​​”[taking] a second chance”.

At 24, ten years after quitting tennis – although 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 campus life in the United States, she had to resort to severe fitness. “I had gained weight in the United States and I didn’t train a lot,” says 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 goal was only Roland, she did countless tournaments to try to get the wild card at the Race,” her coach, Thomas Delgado, told her friends. sides for three months. The French Tennis Federation has indeed distributed two invitations “on merit”, rewarding performance in French tournaments, to Léolia Jeanjean (227th in the world) and Grégoire Barrère.

“It’s only my second year on the tour, even though I’m 26. Mentally, it’s as if I were 19. I’m a total novice, “recalls the Frenchwoman, who was ranked 1,180th in the world at the start of 2021. When it came time to speak into a microphone in front of an audience of journalists, perhaps be. 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 get out some good jokes, it was complicated, we have to reassure her, she’s afraid of doing wrong, nuances her coach. 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 wasn’t the Pliskova in great shape. We had seen her against Tessa, she was not moving very well, notes Thomas Delgado. The key to the game was the start of the game and Leo got into it perfectly. »

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

After the match, Léolia Jeanjean confessed her surprise to see “[her] game bother her opponents so much”. “In the first round, against the top 50, I didn’t think I would 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 the 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 maybe I have the level to be in their shoes too! What kind of match did she have against the former world number one? “I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect match, because afterwards I don’t have a job anymore,” laughs Delgado, co-founder of the Smash It Tennis Academy. There are things to review but it stays between us. The goal was, in one 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 make a leap in 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 trips, do big tours, accompanied. Roland-Garros is only one step in this already winning return.