Limited experience? Veteran opponents? The most unlikely odds? None of that was a problem for a group of teenagers who didn’t flinch with French Open quarter-final offers on the line.
On Monday, Holger Rune pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournaments so far with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over 2021 finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. Rune had come to Paris having never won a match in a major tournament main draw and is now two wins away from the Roland Garros final.
He joined Coco Gauff, Leylah Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz – all of whom were victorious on Sunday – in taking the monumental final step in their young careers. Qinwen Zheng looked set to join them after winning the opening set against world number one Iga Swiatek in their match on Monday before an apparent right leg injury derailed her efforts.
Thanks to Rune and Alcaraz, the 2022 French Open is the first major tournament since 1994 to have two teenagers playing in the quarter-finals. It seems clear that the future has arrived in tennis – and perhaps nothing illustrates that more than this quartet. So how did they get here and what’s stopping them from reaching the semi-finals? Let’s review.
Rune made his Grand Slam debut at the US Open 2021, having passed qualifying, and won over crowds and tennis fans around the world with a bold and fearless performance in a four-set loss to the 1 Novak Djokovic during the night match. Arthur Ashe. Even Djokovic was impressed with what he saw.
“I’m sure we’ll see him a lot in the future,” he said of Rune after the game.
And that we have, especially during the clay court season. Rune won the first ATP title of his career in Munich in April and reached the semi-finals in Lyon. This momentum was fully displayed in Paris. He opened the game with a stunning 6-3, 6-1, 7-6(4) win over No. 14 seed Denis Shapovalov – and didn’t look back. His match against Tsitsipas marked his first set loss of the tournament.
He started the year ranked n°103, arrived in Paris n°40 and entered the top 30 of the next ranking. He became the first Dane in history to reach the quarter-finals of a major tournament, and only the third player from the country to do so.
The win may have come as a surprise to many, and Rune admitted he felt some nerves at the end, but said he knew he could do it.
“My ultimate goal is to be No. 1 in the world,” Rune said. “I’m not going to hide it, because it is and it always has been. I know it’s a long way. It’s been a long way, but now I’m getting closer and closer.
“I believe in myself and I’m also capable of beating these kind of players.”
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 30, 2022
Rune will next face No.8 seed Casper Ruud in an all-Scandinavian clash with both players looking to make their first Grand Slam semi-finals. Ruud has won his previous three matches – all on clay – but even Rune himself is aware of his progress.
“I’m getting better every day,” Rune said earlier in the tournament. “I try to improve by 1% every day to always do things a little bit better than the day before. I think that really helped me a lot.”
Gauff is seen as the sport’s next big thing since her star-studded turn at Wimbledon in 2019, when she reached the fourth round as a 15-year-old qualifier. She has since won two WTA singles titles (and four doubles) and achieved the best major result of her career last year at Roland Garros when she reached the quarter-finals.
Gauff’s doubles partner, Jessica Pegula, said Gauff admitted to having nerves due to all the upheaval on her side of the extremely unpredictable draw. But Gauff showed no signs of that. In fact, she has yet to drop a set. After her 6-4, 6-0 victory over Elise Mertens on Sunday, she said she had never felt so relaxed at a Grand Slam tournament.
“I’m really enjoying the tournament, I’m enjoying life,” Gauff said of his new attitude. “I don’t think about, you know, the end result. I’m just enjoying the game ahead of me and whatever happens, happens – it’s out of my control. I’m going to give my best anyway. “
Of course, it’s easy to enjoy playing tennis when you can hit shots like this:
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 29, 2022
If Gauff, a recent high school graduate, wants to reach the first-ever major semifinal of her career, she will need to beat 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens. The two have known each other since Gauff was in single digits (Stephens, now 29, even attended her 10th birthday party) and played each other for the first time on tour at the US Open in September. Stephens won that second-round clash convincingly 6-4, 6-2, but Gauff admitted on Sunday that she had been “super nervous” ahead of that game.
“I think a lot of people expected a lot from me in this game. Coming in, if I play [Stephens], will just approach it like any other game. Obviously I have to go back and watch this game and see what I can learn from it.”
If Gauff were to win, she could potentially face Fernandez in the semi-finals.
Fernandez stunned the world with what seemed like a run out of nowhere at the US Open in 2021. She improbably knocked out three of the top five players, including defending champion Naomi Osaka, en route to the final. Fernandez eventually fell to fellow teenager Emma Raducanu, but she made it clear that she was a player to watch for the indefinite future.
And Fernandez appears to have rediscovered her US Open mode in Paris, with impressive three-set wins over reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic in the third round and former French Open semi-finalist Amanda Anisimova on Sunday. Fernandez won five of the last six games in the win over Anisimova – and couldn’t hide her emotions when it was over:
Reserved ticket 🎫
– wta (@WTA) May 29, 2022
“Every time I step out on the pitch I still have something to prove,” Fernandez said after the game. “I still have that mindset, I’m the underdog. I’m still young, I still have a lot to show people, the public, so they can just enjoy the tennis match.”
Fernandez will next face rising power Martina Trevisan in the quarter-finals on Tuesday. Trevisan, 28, made a surprise run to the French Open quarters in 2020 and is coming off a title at the Morocco Open last week. The two have never played before, but Fernandez said she was looking forward to facing another left-handed player and was not thinking beyond the game.
“I think winning Roland-Garros is still a long way off, and I just want to enjoy today’s victory and prepare for my next match,” she said.
And no matter what happens to Fernandez this week, she will improve to a career high ranking. She is expected to move up to 14th place, and a win over Trevisan would put her just outside the top 10.
Alcaraz also made a name for themselves at the 2021 US Open, with a stunning five-set victory over No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round, which helped them win the first quarter-final. major in his career.
Since then, Alcaraz has gone on fire with four titles this season, including two at Masters 1000 level. He is riding a 14-game winning streak and hasn’t lost since mid-April. He is now ranked No. 6, a career high, and may be playing even better than that number suggests.
In Paris, he faced a challenge in an unexpected five-set clash with fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round, but he found a way to win – and has been nothing less since then. than dominant. He beat Sebastian Korda, the last man to beat him this season, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the third round and had little trouble with No. 21 seed Karen Khachanov on Sunday:
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 29, 2022
With all eyes on who Alcaraz could potentially meet in the semi-finals – Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, have you heard of them? – he must first pass the No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev. They have faced each other three times: Zverev won twice, but Alcaraz dispatched a 6-3, 6-1 rout when they last met in the Madrid final. Later, Zverev called him “the best in the world right now.”
Alcaraz seems very aware of the expectations and hopes of a showdown with either Nadal or Djokovic (he beat them both in Madrid), but he’s played it all down so far.
“Well, if I win, I just play against one of them,” Alcaraz said this week. “I think I’m ready. It’s different to play against them [here], [because] in the Masters 1000 or another tournament, it is the best of the three, [and a best of five] in [a] Grand Slam, but I would say I’m ready.”