Konjuh keeping the faith in comeback

 - Alex Sharp

Croatian is rebuilding her career after three injury-hit seasons and is off the mark in RG qualifying

Ana Konjuh, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying first round© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

After winning the 2013 Australian Open junior title, Ana Konjuh’s parents allowed the Croatian to get a tattoo.

“Faith” is aptly inked onto the left wrist of the 23-year-old, who has had to deal with her fair share of adversity in recent years.

Four elbow surgeries and three injury-maligned seasons have passed, but Konjuh is back in business.

Seeking a first Grand Slam main draw since 2018, the world No.144 is up and running with a steady 6-4, 6-4 triumph over American Robin Anderson in the first round of Roland-Garros qualifying on Tuesday.

“I believe I belong there and I can do well even if its on clay,” stated the Croatian, who enjoyed a 10/13 success rate at the net and fired 34 winners on court. “I need to stay focused, stay positive and my level is going to go up.

“It was one of my goals for the year to reach the qualies here, so that’s checked off the list. I’m really happy to be back.”

Ana Konjuh, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying first round© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Hot off a final showing in Serbia last week - from which she retired with a right hip injury - Konjuh is looking forward after some dark days on the sidelines.

“It’s been really tough. It’s not like it’s one surgery and comeback. I’ve had a few surgeries and a couple of comebacks,” explained the former world No.20.


“I’ve been disappointed over and over again, I was out of options. Doctors didn’t know how to help me. It sucks, there was nothing I could do. There were days I was asking myself, ‘why am I even doing this?’ But in those moments, I kept telling myself why I started, to remember all the good times.

“It’s what I like doing, I’m not going to give up until I’ve done everything in my power and hopefully it will end on my terms.”

Three years have passed since Konjuh's most recent Roland-Garros main draw appearance and her perspective has drastically changed within that time.

“I know I’m still young but looking back to 2016, 17, 18 when I had really good years on tour, I was going through the motions, going week to week just playing without thinking,” she continued.

“I’m sometimes overthinking, but I feel I’ve grown as a person in that time and I appreciate this a lot more now. I’m not taking anything for granted and hopefully I’ll have many more years to enjoy it.”

Konjuh is part of the WTA's famous 'Class of '97', and was one of the first to break through from that generation (which also includes Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko and ex-world No.4 Belinda Bencic) having reached the quarter-finals at the US Open as a teenager back in 2016.

Was it difficult watching her peers pass her by while she was out of action?

"It felt amazing, in my opinion, especially growing up with these girls, and guys as well, just seeing a lot of us doing great - it just shows how good our generation was and how much quality there is," she responds.

"I'm not going to lie, it was tough when I wasn't playing the last few years, just seeing them do well. On one hand I was happy for them, but on the other hand I wish I had that same chances and opportunities to do that.

"I think we really motivated one another all throughout the years and I think that's one of the reason why we're so good."


Next up for Konjuh is a tricky second round test against reigning Roland-Garros doubles champion Timea Babos.

Meanwhile, Colombian teenager Maria Camila Osorio Serrano continues to make significant strides, as she celebrated her top-100 debut this week by advancing to the second round of qualifying in Paris on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old, titlist on home soil in Bogota last month, dispatched Serbian youngster Olga Danilovic 6-3, 6-2 in just over an hour to book a meeting with Richel Hogenkamp.

It was a happy 21st birthday for in-form Claire Liu, putting the icing on the cake with a hard-fought 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 comeback against Canada’s Rebecca Marino.

“It’s pretty nice, this is one of the sweetest birthdays,” revealed the 20th seed, arriving in Paris after lifting back-to-back trophies on clay on the ITF World Tennis Tour.

“She has a pretty big game, I was at her mercy at the start, but I kept chipping away and I’m really pleased with the win. I had brilliant preparation and hopefully I can keep this momentum going.

“If I look too far ahead it messes with my head a little bit, so I’ve just been gaining more confidence. I’ve definitely built up enough matches that I believe I can compete with anyone on the court.”

Claire Liu, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying first round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

The 2017 Roland-Garros girls' singles finalist - also Wimbledon girls' champion that summer - enjoys throwbacks to those junior days, but is content with her development since.

“I think I’ve learned a lot about myself, trying to figure out what works schedule-wise, mental-wise, strategy-wise,” added the American, who is chasing a main draw debut in Paris.

“I’ve evolved a lot and got a lot more mature with my decision-making.”

Fellow American Hailey Baptiste stands in Liu’s path at the second hurdle.

Elsewhere, a trio of seeds left contention as American No.6 seed Caty McNally was forced to retire while 1-4 down to Liang En-Shuo. Germany’s Antonia Lottner posted a 7-5, 6-4 win to dismiss eighth-seeded Anna Kalinskaya, while Aleksandra Krunic rallied 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to overcome No.3 seed Liudmila Samsonova.