Teenage Tauson channels junior success in qualifying

Former junior No.1 Tauson and fellow teen McNally are among the women's qualifying winners on Wednesday.

Clara Tauson, Roland Garros 2020, qualifying first round© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The “mental game” are the buzzwords for former junior world No.1 Clara Tauson as she inches closer to her Grand Slam main draw debut.

The 17-year-old reeled in Romanian Gabriela Talaba 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-2 to set a second-round qualifying meeting with No.6 seed Elisabetta Cocciaretto, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Russia’s Anastasiya Komardina at Roland-Garros on Wednesday.

“I was down so many times, so I kept trying to make her win the points. I was a bit lucky I think, it was definitely a test mentally,” said the world No.187, Tauson.

The Dane enjoyed a stellar junior career, lifting the Australian Open title in 2019 before heading onto the professional circuit.

Seven titles at the ITF level have punctuated a promising start for the teenager, who is taking the major stage in her stride.

“I come from a very small tennis country, so I’ve always been humble, especially when you come to a place like this,” she said.

“It’s not every day that you get to play these Grand Slams. I need to try my best, but enjoy it, to keep my mental game on point every match.

“I’m just happy to be here, it’s been a rough year for everyone.”

Tauson is now 12-2 since August, which includes a title on clay in Portugal and maiden WTA main draw wins in Prague.

“My transition to the pros has been good, you learn from the tough or close losses,” she said. “It’s been just over a year now and I’m more comfortable playing against these higher-ranked opponents.

“Main draw in a Grand Slam is insane for a player like me, it would be a dream come true, but I have to take it match by match.”

One single ranking spot denied Caty McNally a place at Roland-Garros last summer and now the fledging American is making up for lost time.

The 18-year-old prevailed in a gruelling 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 three-hour tussle against Pemra Ozgen in round one of qualifying.

“I definitely didn’t play my best today, but it’s about competing and finding a way when you’re off,” said the American, who finished runner-up to close friend Coco Gauff at Junior Roland-Garros 2018.

“I never gave up, even when down a couple of breaks in the third. I’m really proud how I fought.

“The cut-off was crazy last year, so this is my first time since juniors and I’m so happy. All the players are grateful for any matches in the current situation.”

McNally confirmed she will team up with Gauff for some more “McCoco” doubles action, but back to singles and the fledging American is emphasising patience.

“I had a couple of set points then over Elise Mertens and she went onto the quarters,” said McNally, recalling her recent impressive US Open third-round clash.

“So, I feel I’m right there, it’s just a process and I’m willing to learn the hard way going through all types of matches. I’m ready for that ride, I might not flourish right away, but every day, with every match, win or lose, I’m definitely learning for the future.”

McNally booked an intriguing second round against Mayar Sherif, the first Egyptian woman to win a singles match at Roland-Garros outside the juniors.

Caty McNally, Roland-Garros 2020, qualifying first round.©Loïc Wacziak / FFT

Australia’s Astra Sharma controlled proceedings with a 6-4, 6-4 win over France’s Irina Ramialison to get her qualifying campaign off on the right foot.

“Yeah, really pleased to get through that one, I’ve been working a lot on being super aggressive, taking their time away, dictating the points,” the 25-year-old said. “I thought when I played my best today, that stood out.”

The world No.114 acknowledged the impact and sacrifice made by the Original Nine, on the 50th anniversary of their bold action.

“Reading what these women have done is awe-inspiring,” Sharma said. “What they did in the context of that era, was so brave and courageous.

“They were women ahead of their time and real trailblazers. To be able to benefit from that is very inspiring for me.”

The Australian will miss seeing 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty in Paris this year and admits to working tirelessly to replicate aspects of her green and gold teammate’s artillery.

“Her game is unbelievable and to see it come together in such an amazing run made us all so proud in Australia, just how well she’s doing,” Sharma said.

“Just to see so much hunger and talent. It was a brilliant experience to watch and I’ve looked up to her for sure as a role model. I’d love to emulate a little bit of that success in the future.”

Sharma plays Japan’s Yuki Naito in the second round, who posted a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 win against home hope Amandine Hesse. Seeking her first Roland-Garros main draw place, No.12 seed Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria dispatched Reka Luca Jani 7-5, 6-4.

Astra Sharma, Roland-Garros 2020, qualifying first round.©Julien Crosnier / FFT