Koolhof and Shibahara: How a DM led to silverware in Paris

No.2 seeds became Grand Slam champions in their very first tournament as partners

Ena Shibahara et Wesley Koolhof / Victoire double mixte Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The first champions of Roland-Garros 2022 were crowned on Thursday and the roots of their triumph grew from social media.

Last month Wesley Koolhof sent Ena Shibahara a direct message on Instagram to see if the doubles world No.8 was available for a shot at the title at Roland-Garros.

Now they’re Grand Slam champions for the very first time, lifting the mixed doubles trophy on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“Took her a while to respond back,” recalled Koolhof.

“We actually never met before, I just saw her a few times playing at the Slams and the Masters, so I knew what kind of game she had and thought it would suit me very well. This is the crazy result in the end.”

Shibahara served out the 7-6(5), 6-2 victory over Ulrikke Eikeri and Joran Vliegen to cap a sublime debut tournament together.

“It is a dream come true to win a Grand Slam title. I'm still letting it sink in. I don't think it really hit me yet,” said 24-year-old Shibahara, delighted to complete a full circle from childhood.

“I grew up in a family of five and they would play doubles, and I'm the youngest, so I was always trying to fight for the spot to be the fourth player.

“When I started playing tennis we would play mixed doubles, it’s the first thing I played. So it’s extra special for me to win this mixed doubles.”

Time to think of celebrations, but Koolhof had a conundrum.

“I don't know if you drink or not?” the doubles world No.11 asked his partner.

“I'm driving home in a few hours, so I cannot really drink, or else my girlfriend (former top-10 star Julia Goerges) could drive, maybe. We definitely are going to celebrate it a little bit.”

Over in the men’s doubles event the final line-up was decided courtesy of two epic battles.

Ivan Dodig will shoot for a second Roland-Garros title partnering American Austin Krajicek, the pair escaping in a 4-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 thriller against fourth seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos.

They’ll meet the inspired Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer in the final.

The El Salvador-Netherlands combination fought back 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(10/8) to edge out No.16 seeds Rohan Bopanna and Matwe Middelkoop, sparking exuberant celebrations.

“It's a great feeling, my first Grand Slam final,” said Arevalo, the duo posting their 23rd win of 2022.

“I feel like we have been working really hard and I think the whole job that we have been doing is paying off.

"We are super happy to be in the final, but we know that (there is) still a lot of work to do. We are gonna go fight on Saturday in the final.”

Both players leapt into the air before racing towards their family members in the Court Simonne-Mathieu stands.

Marcelo Arevalo Jean-Julien Rojer, demi-finales, double messieurs, Roland-Garros 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

This was an emotionally charged win, especially for Arevalo, the first Grand Slam men’s doubles finalist from Central America. 

“I think I'm also playing for a lot of people back in El Salvador. They have always been supporting me, and this is also a personal achievement, but also it's for my country," he said.

“I'm a very emotional person, and that's the way I celebrate every match that I play, because I know it has been a long way.”

Rojer, a Grand Slam winner with Horia Tecau at Wimbledon 2015 and US Open 2017, sees similarities between his former and current partners.

“I think adapting to your partner is the biggest challenge, but I don't think my game has changed so much," said the 40-year-old Dutchman.

"Because I think the last time I was in the semis here was with Tecau, and I think Marcelo has a very similar game to Horia.

“I think I can fall back into a lot of the stuff that I know how to do or do well, his game allows me to do that or play that way, which doesn't obviously happen with every partner.

“We play quite intense and we have a lot of energy on the court, because that's the kind of people that we are and from the region of the world where we come from.

“You get some explosive moments during the match, as well. When you win these matches they're important, you have to do a lot of stuff right to win and conquer a lot of moments. It's a feeling of pride and accomplishment.”