Au revoir, RG? Not yet, says Schiavone

The 2010 champion joins former semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard among women's qualifying hopefuls.

Francesca Schiavone Roland-Garros 2010 Paris tour Eiffel.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Kate Battersby

The women’s qualifying at Roland-Garros, which gets underway on Tuesday, carries an echo of the old advice that we should never say never.

Perennial favourite Francesca Schiavone had declared 2017 to be her last on the circuit, but when December arrived she backtracked, “inspired by Roger, Serena and Venus” and their ongoing age-defying achievements. Now ranked No.265, Schiavone turns 38 next month, and it is eight years since she lifted the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen – the last woman with a single-handed backhand to win a Grand Slam title.

Her ranking peaked at No.4 following her 2010 success, and she was still in the top 100 as recently as April; but she has lost all six of her singles jousts this year. On her 18th visit to the Parisian clay, she meets Canada’s Carol Zhao in the Italian’s first Roland-Garros qualifying tournament since her debut here in 2000.

“I have this drug called tennis which runs through my veins,” she smiles. “As soon as I am in a competition, I feel it and I immediately want to go on to the court. I was born this way.”

Also in the qualifying fray is the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard, now ranked No.167 having dropped out of the top 100 in January for the first time in five years. In March the 24-year-old Canadian won undisclosed damages from the United States Tennis Association regarding her locker-room fall at Flushing Meadows in 2015, but that month also saw the departure of the fourth agent to represent her since that Wimbledon high-point.

At Roland-Garros she has progressed beyond the second round here just once in five visits, when she made the last four in her annus mirabilis of 2014. In her opening 2018 qualifying foray she will be up against Dalila Jakupovic, seeded No.13, who in six attempts has only once advanced beyond the first qualifying round of any Grand Slam.

The No.1 seed is Vera Lapko, whose up-to-date singles ranking of No.77 would usually earn her entry into the main draw by right. But the recent back-to-back ITF tournament wins which bounced her up there came too late for the main draw entry list. She faces the engaging Canadian Bianca Andreescu, still six weeks shy of her 18th birthday but already a stalwart of her nation’s Fed Cup squad and winner of the junior doubles here last year with Carson Branstine.

Other qualifying hopefuls of note include Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur. Last year as a lucky loser into the main draw, she not only became the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam, but did so by defeating the world No.6 Dominika Cibulkova. She kicks off here against Sesil Karatantcheva, who reached the quarter-finals here as a 15-year-old in 2005, upsetting Venus Williams en route. The same year Karatantcheva tested positive twice for nandrolone and received a two-year ban.

Belgium’s Arantxa Rus is remembered at Roland-Garros for coming from match point down to see off world No.2 Kim Clijsters here in 2011. She plays the French wildcard Manon Arcangioli. All eight wildcards have gone to domestic competitors.

Also in the mix is Cagla Buyukakcay who in 2016 won the Istanbul Cup to become the first Turkish winner of a WTA tournament. She faces the No.4 seed Anna Blinkova. For the US, 19-year-old Caroline Dolehide is one of a clutch of rising young Americans, with four ITF singles under her belt. She’s up against compatriot Irina Falconi.

Check out the women's qualifying draw in full here.