Vukic channelling Arteta, Karatsev on course

March towards main draw has started and a host of players are rising to the occasion in qualifying.

Aleksandar Vukic, Roland-Garros 2023, qualifying first round© Andre Ferreira/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Inspired by Arsenal manager Mikael Arteta, and drawing on fond memories from Roland-Garros, Aleksandar Vukic opened his qualifying journey in Paris on Tuesday with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win to deny Belgium's Raphael Collignon.

Returning to Roland-Garros enables Vukic to recall a rare triumph on tour - a victory over Carlos Alcaraz.

Back in 2020, Vukic reeled in the future world No.1 from a set down during a qualifying first-round clash in Paris.

"I'll probably take that one to my grave, that was a good one," said Vukic with a grin. "Always coming back here brings good memories. When you have good feelings at a place, it always helps."


Those good feelings have been boosted by a purple patch of form in recent weeks on the Challenger Tour. A title and two additional finals reached within the last four weeks have catapulted the 27-year-old into the top 100 for the first time. His patience and hard work have finally paid off.

"There are so many days in the year that you don't feel good or things don't go your way, so just trying to minimise those and finding ways to win," said the world No.95.

"Like today, I still played well at certain moments, but it's just winning builds confidence.

"I think qualies always has its own challenges, different pressures, different environment. Main draw of a Grand Slam, you never know how many you’re going to get. So, I'd love to add another one."

A tip from a two-time major finalist has also strengthened Vukic's mental armoury.

"I've been focusing on the mental aspects off court as well. I started just before Indian Wells through an app called 'Waking up' and it seems to really help me," added the Sydneysider.

"Actually, Kevin Anderson recommended it to me, I was training with him for a few days in Delray (Florida) and he's really big on that. Will definitely continue it."

Vukic is an ardent Arsenal fan, following the Premier League side from afar. The north London club were the subject of an Amazon Prime documentary 'All or Nothing' last year, prior to a second-place season finish in 2023.

Their manager Arteta has reinvigorated the culture at the club and Vukic has been pouring over the footage to try and enhance his own game.

"I probably watched it two or three times, purely because of him because of his mentality. I've tried to take as much as I can into tennis," revealed Vukic.

"It's that elite mentality where he's just so driven by the process as corny as it sounds. The results are something that you can't control in a way, Arteta aims for them but if he doesn't get it, he's not rattled by results one way or the other. It's inspiring."

Carlos Alcaraz, Aleksandar Vukic, Roland-Garros 2020 qualifying© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Nadal's habitat the 'perfect' setting

Elsewhere in qualifying, top seed Aslan Karatsev fended off home favourite Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6(2), 7-6(1) in an opener which was "anything but easy".

The world No.62 has enjoyed a resurgent stint, including a first ever Masters 1000 semi-final in Madrid, after spending some time in March training at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Manacor.


"They really welcomed us, they provided everything, the courts, the gym, everything was perfect," said Karatsev.

"We were there for a month to prepare for the clay season, because it was too cold at my base at home. It was fantastic there."

The former world No.14 caught a glimpse of Nadal in action, prior to the 22-time Grand Slam champion's withdrawal.

"Yeah I saw him. He was trying to come back, but was struggling. He was pushing so hard, practising every day," added the 29-year-old. "It was pretty interesting, was amazing."

Karatsev rose from qualifying all the way to the last four in Madrid last month, defeating his close friend Daniil Medvedev along the way. There's no secret to his recent revival; just hard graft with his long-standing coach Yahor Yatsyk.

"I think it's both on and off court. A lot of conversations on the mental part," said Karatsev, who is seeking his third consecutive main draw appearance in Paris. 

"On court it's simply just working hard. It’s not like we’ve just been chilling. He's a guy who likes to work hard for hours and hours on the court, pushing me. It works, we're a good combination." 

The 2021 Australian Open semi-finalist is adamant he can return to those heights on the major stage.

"I just try to compete. I think I will be at the top again," insisted Karatsev. "With my game, with my physical condition, I know I can make it."

Aslan Karatsev / Roland-Garros 2022©Clément Mahoudeau / FFT