Ymer realises main draw dream

 - Ian Chadband

Swede Mikael Ymer overcome by emotion after reaching first major main draw.

He has been talked about for some time as being the player perhaps best equipped to bring back a taste of the glory days of Swedish men’s tennis and when Mikael Ymer fought his way into his first Grand Slam main draw at Roland-Garros on Friday, the youngster could not hide his relief and joy.

Neither could another first-time qualifier, Moldovan-born Spaniard Aliona Bolsova, conceal how her delight was mixed with sorrow when she pulled off one of the shocks of the week, sinking to her knees on court and shedding tears over the recent death of her former coach.

The rising pair seemed to encapsulate the sense of achievement of battling into a maiden main draw, with the 20-year-old Swede Ymer beaming: “I feel very emotional right now. It’s what we all work for since we were kids, a big milestone in my career.”

Yet after eight draining hours over the week in which he had battled through three tough three-setters, sealed by his impressive 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 win over Finnish-born Swiss Henri Laaksonen on Friday, Ymer was happy to take stock. “Let’s stop for a minute and just appreciate where we are,” he smiled.

Ymer-Laaksonen Infosys Stats+© rolandgarros.com

Time to reflect perhaps that, just like his elder brother Elias, who has been in six main draws, he has completed just part of what promises to be an exciting journey.

He was prompted to recall being a little kid who, along with his dad, the former Ethiopian distance runner Wondwosen Ymer, couldn’t get into Wimbledon because their tickets were invalid, which prompted him to feel determined to get to a Grand Slam as a player one day.

Here, he did it the hard way in front of friends who had travelled from all over Europe to cheer him on. Yet when Laaksonen fought back to level the match, Ymer seemed to be unravelling.

“At a moment like this, it’s both exciting and a little bit scary; you’re afraid a little bit to give it all you’ve got and find you still lose. So I took a short toilet break, changed my shirt and said to myself ‘okay, give it all you’ve got’ so that whatever happened I could leave the court proud." He did too.

‘Lioness’ Aliona tames Babos

There were more emotional scenes after the 21-year-old Bolsova defeated Hungary’s former top-25 player, Timea Babos, on Court 6 just a couple of days after her childhood coach died.

“It means so much to me to get to my first main draw,” said the woman who left Moldova with her family when she was two and has since carved out a career in Barcelona, having gained Spanish citizenship in 2013.

“Marcelo was my coach when I was 11 or 12 - so this win is for him,” she added, voice choking. “Importance-wise, it’s the biggest win of my career.”

Aliona Bolsova©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Bolsova sports a striking tattoo on her left arm of a lioness. “That’s me!” she explained. “From my name Aliona, a lot of people call me lion. I love what the tattoo means … it shows my strength and competitiveness.”

All of which was on display as she prevailed after one hour and 55 minutes, finally subduing Babos after the stubborn Hungarian had saved five match points.

Bernarda Pera, the American top qualifying seed, made it through after a magnificent three-set struggle with Slovenia’s double Youth Olympics champion Kaja Juvan while others to make it through to the main draw included the Russian teenager Sofya Zhuk, Slovakia’s Kristina Kucova, Italian Jasmine Paolini, Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova, and Kazakh Elena Rybakina.

Tough day for home hopes   

It was a day of mixed fortunes for the home men’s challenge, the best news for the Paris fans emerging when 22-year-old Alexandre Muller earned the most notable scalp of Serbia’s vastly experienced Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-4.

Yet he was one of only two of the dozen Frenchmen who entered qualifying to make the big party, though, with Elliot Benchetrit progressing when he beat compatriot Enzo Couacaud 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 amid a vibrant atmosphere on the splendid Court 14.

Elliot Benchetrit Qualifications Roland-Garros 2019©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Former Roland-Garros boys champion Geoffrey Blancaneaux was outplayed 6-3, 6-2 by Spain’s Pedro Martinez and Mathias Bourgue succumbed to the American number one qualifying seed Tennys Sandgren 7-6(1), 7-5.

The others to qualify on Friday were Italy’s Simone Bolelli, Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro and Slovenia’s Blaz Rola, who will meet Ymer in the first round.

When the young Swede was asked about the prospect of meeting Rafael Nadal in the first round, he just boomed with incredulous laughter. Instead, that dubious honour, designed to send anyone into a fit of manic cackling, has gone to German world No.184 Yannick Hanfmann.