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Friday, October 7, 2022

Two Unexpected Players See Their Careers Take Off at the French Open

As one of the four Grand Slam events, the French Open is considered the “big time” for a tennis player since it has enormous and noisy spectators, significant prize money, and the majority of expenditures being paid for, such as hotel rooms, laundry, and food while competing.

Both players are competing in their first Grand Slam competition, despite the fact that they entered the sport at a later stage than most others. Jeanjean, who hails from France and holds the wild card position with a world ranking of 227, is 26 years old. A qualifier that hails from Austin, Texas and competes for Mexico, Contreras Gomez is 24 years old and has the position of 225 in the world.

They do not belong here. Their photographs and even their birth dates are not included on the biographical pages that are now available for them on the WTA website. However, these are the most recent examples that show how much skill and perseverance can be found in tennis players outside of the top elite in the world. And although only Jeanjean remained in the competition on Thursday night following her second-round victory over Karolina Pliskova, the No. 8 seed, Contreras Gomez was not lacking in memories or appreciation despite her loss to Daria Kasatkina, the No. 20 seed, in a straight set.

While reading through her tactical notes on changeovers and scribbling new ideas in her notebook, Contreras Gomez won four matches in Paris: three in qualifying and one in the first round. Prior to qualifying for Roland Garros, Contreras Gomez had never competed in a singles match against a player ranked in the top 100 in the world. Writing is second nature to me. This year, she finished writing a book with the working title “Rise of the Darkness,” although it has not yet been published.

She followed in Jeanjean’s footsteps by competing in college tennis, which is becoming an increasingly frequent route to the circuit and even the top. See, for example, Cameron Norrie, a former standout at Texas Christian University who is currently ranked No. 10 in the ATP rankings, and Danielle Collins, a two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association singles champion at the University of Virginia who is currently ranked No. 9 in the WTA rankings after reaching the final of the Australian Open this year.

The Contreras Gomez family has a long history in the sport of tennis. Her grandpa Francisco Contreras competed in the Grand Slam events and was a player and captain on Mexico’s Davis Cup team. Her father, Javier, is a teaching professional, and her grandfather was a player and captain on Mexico’s Davis Cup squad. She was born in Mexico, and when she was in her early teens, her family made the move to the United States. She was a good enough student to get admitted to Yale, which is a member of the Ivy League. However, she made the decision to accept a full scholarship offer from Vanderbilt University since she believed the school to be her “nesting ground” and that she would be happy there. There was no other top-tier Division I tennis programme that actively pursued her recruitment.

She was able to go to the semifinals of the N.C.A.A. singles event while playing a variety of positions for the Vanderbilt team. Macdonald recalls her telling him at the end of her sophomore year that in order to play better tennis, she needed to get over her nerves while playing on the court. After that, she participated in a study abroad programme in Cape Town, which was located in South Africa.

Only a few short months ago, she was once again on the verge of financial ruin. She wanted to improve her ranking so that she could participate in the qualifying tournament for the French Open, and she reasoned that the best way to do it would be to go to Australia and play in low-stakes competitions there.

She played Division I tennis at Baylor and Arkansas before finishing her eligibility at the Division II Lynn University, a small private university in Boca Raton, Florida, where she was an outstanding player and received her master’s degree in business administration in 2019. However, a significant knee injury halted Jeanjean’s progress, and she ultimately decided to pursue her education in the United States.

Jeanjean said that for “four or five years” she never believed she would participate in a Grand Slam event, but she chose to give herself “a second opportunity” because she wanted to respect the promise she exhibited when she was younger. According to L’Equipe, a French sports journal, she had a ranking in the thousands as the year 2021 began, and since she did not have any sponsors, she had to rely on money from the government for her survival as well as some assistance from her father.

Contreras Gomez will take her notepad and almost $90,000 in prize money from the second round with her when she travels to Britain for the grass-court season (minus French taxes). Collins, along with a number of other college players, has been helped financially by Martin Schneider, an American businessman and benefactor. Schneider has supported Collins and the other players in their efforts to make the transition from college to the professional tour. Although she does not yet have a clothing sponsor, her courageous performance in Paris has attracted a financial commitment from Schneider for the next two years.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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