Jeanjean at loss for words after Pliskova upset

 - Simon Cambers

26-year-old French wildcard admits she surprised herself with 'life-changing' run to the RG third round

Léolia Jeanjean Roland-Garros 2022,2e tour©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

If you’re wondering who Leolia Jeanjean, the Frenchwoman who stunned Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-2 in the second round at Roland-Garros on Thursday, is, you’re probably not alone.

Until this week, few people other than French tennis aficionados knew too much about the Montpellier-born 26-year-old, ranked 227, who was given a wildcard into this year's event.

On Thursday, though, she made herself an instant hero when she beat the Czech former world No.1.

In her first Grand Slam event, she is turning heads and going places, which is a surprise to everyone, including herself.

“Even me, I don't have an explanation,” a delighted Jeanjean told reporters at Roland-Garros on Thursday. “I don't even realise what's happening. I know I'm 26. It's my first Grand Slam. I thought I would have lost in the first round in two sets, and I found myself beating a top-10 player.

“So honestly, I have nothing else to say. I don't really know how it's possible, what's happening. I just try to give my best to play my tennis, and it's working so far.”

A top junior in France, Jeanjean was tipped for stardom until she suffered a knee injury, which caused her to quit the sport.

Changing tack, she decided to go to college in the United States, first at Baylor University, then at the University of Arkansas and finally, a year at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

It was there, as she was studying for a degree in finance, that Jeanjean really began to play top-level tennis, the kind many people had expected from her far sooner.

“I got an injury on my knee, so I didn't play for two years,” Jeanjean explained. “That's when I decided to go to the US and do my studies.

“The first few years were not easy, obviously, because of the way we were training. It's something really different in the US. My last year I will say perfect because I didn't lose a singles or doubles match. It was really good.

“Then after this, I was thinking maybe I should try to go and try to play a few ITF (tournaments), which went really well too, because, you know, I went to the semis and stuff.

“I was, like, ‘OK, so maybe if I practise hard enough, get back in shape, maybe it will work.”

Leolia Jeanjean, Roland Garros 2022, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

'I always believed in myself'

Smart on the court, Jeanjean rarely gave Pliskova two shots the same, upsetting her rhythm with high topspin forehands and mixing it up brilliantly with superb drop shots.

“It seems that my level of play disturbs them,” she said. “I thought that I would not win, but it's not the case. I'm very surprised, but I'm also very happy, because it means that maybe I have the level to be there on the tour.”

Despite her time out, Jeanjean said the fact she had been at the top of her age groups in France meant that once she was fully fit, she was capable of good things.

“When I stopped playing when I was young, I just wanted to give myself another chance, because in my head, since I was good when I was like 14, 15, I'm like, ‘Why can't I be good 10 years later?’” she said. “So that's why I take my chance, and so far, it's working.

“When I stopped playing, I never told myself I'd be in the third round of a Grand Slam. I think the fact that I never gave up, I always believed in myself, it's probably why I'm here today.”

Jeanjean said her college experience had stood her in good stead and given her the perspective to enjoy what she’s achieving.

“In the USA I lost my fitness,” she said. “I took on weight, so I worked on being fit. So I practised, I managed to work on a few gaps, but the most important thing was the fitness and also the attitude on court.

“I'm very happy with what's happening. But it's true that with the life experience I have had, this actually helps me to keep my cool, to keep some distance, and to give the best in such moments.”

Change of plan

Jeanjean will play Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania in the third round and with her ranking set to rise inside the world’s top 150, the Frenchwoman will try to qualify for Wimbledon next month and plans to test herself on the WTA tour.

“The first thing was to play a Grand Slam and to have a second round. Of course my schedule is going to change, because I was expecting to do ITF tournaments and other low-ranked tournaments,” she said. “Now, of course, I will certainly do WTA tournaments.”

Jeanjean is guaranteed to earn at least 125,800 euros, courtesy of her trip to the third round.

“That will make life easier. I can certainly pay a coach, pay my tickets when I go to tournaments. I can actually travel around further away. I can actually have staff. So this will change everything, certainly,” she added.

“I have no ranking limit. I would like to be top 100 and to be able to play Grand Slams. I will play and we will see what happens.”