Is winning the junior tournament the key to the future greatness of Roland-Garros?
The transition from top junior to professional is strewn with pitfalls. For some, it’s transparent; for others, it’s too much to handle.
But for the lucky few who manage to win the French Open junior title, it seems their progression through the senior ranks is more certain than most.
A total of 20 Roland Garros junior champions have made the main draw in this year’s men’s and women’s individual events, including American Coco Gauff and Leylah Fernandez, the Canadian who reached the US Open final last September. .
“I think just having, I guess, the memory of finishing a tournament here and playing seven games here really helps,” Gauff, 18, said on Friday after booking his place in the fourth round of the Premier League. this year’s event. .
Eleven of the 20 former junior winners were in the women’s event, including Simona Halep, Paula Badosa, Belinda Bencic and Ons Jabeur, while nine men’s champions qualified for the main draw, including Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Andrey Rublev and a Danish teenager. HolgerRune. Of the 20, eight remain before Sunday; Gauff, Fernandez, Paula Badosa, Alize Cornet, Rublev, Rune, Cilic and Christian Garin.
Fernandez said knowing that she had been good enough to win at Roland Garros as a junior was beneficial as she was starting to make her way as a senior.
“I think this year I totally forgot that I won the juniors a few years ago,” the 19-year-old said. “You know, I think it helped the first years when I came here to get used to it and find my place in the circuit, in the WTA circuit.
“So I think it’s good to play junior Grand Slams, that you can see the professionals, see how they play, how they warm up.
“When I entered Roland Garros a few years ago in the professional team, I was able to copy what they were doing and try to find my own rhythm, my own way of training, my own way of doing things, my own routine. I think this year it all comes together.
Fernandez beat Olympic champion Belinda Bencic in the third round in Paris on Friday and will now face another rising star, Amanda Anisimova, herself a former junior Grand Slam champion, at the US Open in 2017.
For Gauff, who reached the fourth round with a confident win over Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi on Friday, knowing what it’s like to be there on the weekend of a big event helps mentally when it comes to making it through the ranks. professionals.
“I think in general, any junior Slam champion, I think, you know you’ve got what’s in you,” she said. “Obviously it’s completely different playing in the pros, but I think you know what it’s like to play seven matches on a big stage. I think that’s what really helped me a lot, play as a junior, finish those tournaments and know what it’s like to play long singles and doubles tournaments.”
Tennis history is littered with promising juniors who never made it to senior level. Nothing is guaranteed.
“Everyone has a different path,” Fernandez said. “I can’t say that winning a Junior Grand Slam will help a player turn professional. But what I can say is that each of these players is working hard and fighting for their dream.
“Sometimes it just comes with luck. I think I’ve been very lucky with the opportunities I’ve had and I’ve been able to take advantage of those opportunities. And then I think for me, I think the juniors have definitely helped me and my tennis game to see where my level is.”
And for some, like Danish teenager Rune, winning a junior title is a life-changing moment. “I still think about it and I think it’s an incredible moment for my career, even if it’s at the juniors,” Rune told Roland-Garros.com.
“This title means more to me than any future title. Of course, Munich [where last month he won his first title on the ATP Tour] was that big, I feel like, but still, you know, being able to win a Junior Slam is every junior’s goal.
“It was a huge relief and to be here is very special and you know it’s one of my favorite tournaments and I’m happy.”