8 players to watch in 2021 (after stunning French Open debuts)
A succession of players made significant breakthroughs at the French Open, including eight who were making their debuts at Roland Garros
The world No 239, who had lost in qualifying on his two previous appearances at the French Open, took full advantage of his wild card to provide wonderful entertainment for the home fans.
Gaston had never won a tour-level match before, but the 20-year-old Frenchman won his first two rounds with something to spare and then featured in one of the matches of the tournament, beating Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion, in five sets with a thrilling display of inventive shot-making. “Before I was always watching this on TV,” Gaston said after winning the final set 6-0. “Today I can play on these courts, so it’s amazing for me.”
The lowest ranked man to reach the fourth round for 18 years, Gaston provided more drama against Dominic Thiem, the world No 3, in his next match. Thiem won the first two sets but lost the next two in the face of a spirited fightback from Gaston before winning the decider 6-3.
The 22-year-old German had only ever played six tour-level matches – and won just two of them – when he arrived at the French Open to play in his first Grand Slam qualifying tournament. Three wins in qualifying took the then world No 186 into the main draw, where he immediately looked comfortable.
After emphatic victories over Feliciano Lopez and Jan-Lennard Struff, Altmaier ended the run of Matteo Berrettini, the No 7 seed, winning 6-2 7-6 6-4 to earn a fourth-round meeting with Pablo Carreno Busta. The son of an amateur boxer, Altmaier said the first half hour against the Spaniard was the toughest time he had ever spent on a court and he eventually lost in straight sets.
“I think for me it was a very, very positive week,” Altmaier said afterwards. “I’ve been working really hard for this. I think I truly believe that I belong here. It’s for me just the beginning of everything.”
The winner of last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals is one of the game’s outstanding talents. A formidable ball-striker, the 19-year-old Italian made his Grand Slam debut at the 2019 US Open and had never played at Roland Garros until this year.
From the moment he swept aside David Goffin in his opening match, Sinner looked totally at ease. He won his first three matches in straight sets before enjoying the best win of his career in the fourth round over Alexander Zverev, the US Open runner-up.
Sinner served for the first set against Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, only for the Spaniard to break back and win a hard-fought tie-break. The second set was also close, but Nadal eventually won in three sets, the match finishing at 1.25am after a long day on Court Philippe Chatrier. “Sinner is a very young talent with a lot of power and great shots,” Nadal said. “For two sets it was tough.”
Until this tournament the 20-year-old American’s name had usually been mentioned in connection with his coach and father, Petr, the 1998 Australian Open champion. However, a run to the fourth round here confirmed that Sebastian could become a top performer in his own right.
Korda’s only previous appearance at a Grand Slam tournament had been at last year’s US Open, where he lost to Denis Shapovalov in the first round, but the world No 213 quickly found his feet at Roland Garros with successive four-set victories over experienced campaigners in Andreas Seppi and John Isner.
After beating Spain’s Pedro Martinez in straight sets to reach the fourth round, Korda faced Rafael Nadal, who dropped only four games in beating him in less than two hours. Korda described the occasion as “definitely the best moment of my life, super awesome” and asked Nadal for a signed shirt at the end of the match.
Two years after having to limit her playing schedule because she could not afford to travel to tournaments, the 23-year-old Argentinian became the first female qualifier in history to reach the semi-finals of the French Open.
Podoroska’s only previous Grand Slam appearance had been at the US Open in 2016, when she lost in the first round, but she found some good form when tennis resumed this summer after the shutdown and impressed in qualifying at Roland Garros, winning all three of her matches in straight sets.
Yulia Putintseva, the No 23 seed, was among Podoroska’s first four victims in the main draw before the then world No 131 claimed the biggest win of her career with a straight-sets victory over Elina Svitolina, the No 3 seed, which took the Argentinian’s run of successive wins to 13. However, Iga Swiatek, the eventual champion, dropped only three games in beating Podoroska in the semi-finals.
There was no story more heart-warming at this year’s French Open than that of the 26-year-old Italian, who had been a successful junior but fought a lengthy battle against anorexia and dropped out of the sport for four years before picking up the pieces of her career in 2014.
Her subsequent progress was slow and it was not until this year’s Australian Open that Trevisan made her Grand Slam debut, losing to Sofia Kenin, the eventual champion, in the first round. Ranked No 159 in the world, Trevisan came through qualifying at the French Open before embarking on a remarkable run in the main draw.
Trevisan won her opening match after Camila Giorgi retired in the second set, but had to work hard for her subsequent victories. In the second round Trevisan beat Cori Gauff and then went on to beat two seeds, Maria Sakkari and Kiki Bertens, before losing to Iga Swiatek in the quarter-finals.
On her only previous appearance at Roland Garros the 22-year-old Spaniard had fallen in the first round of qualifying, but as a member of the world’s top 100 she earned direct entry into the main draw at Roland Garros for the first time.
Badosa, who had won only one match in her five previous appearances at other Grand Slam tournaments, beat the Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova in the first round before finding a way past the No 29 seed, Sloane Stephens, who had been runner-up in 2018, in the second. Both matches went to three sets.
That win earned Badosa a third-round meeting with the 2017 champion, Jelena Ostapenko, who had beaten Karolina Pliskova, the No 2 seed, in her previous match and was showing signs of recapturing her old form. However, Badosa rose to the occasion, winning in straight sets. She went on to lose to Germany’s Laura Siegemund in the fourth round.
The 25-year-old Romanian had been ranked between No 100 and No 200 for most of the past four years without ever looking likely to make much of an impact on the sport until she arrived at Roland Garros. However, victories in qualifying over Croatia’s Tereza Mrdeza, Britain’s Harriet Dart and the Netherlands’ Richel Hogenkamp took Bara into the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in her career.
Standing just 5ft 4in tall, Bara may not have the power of many of her contemporaries, but she loves playing on clay and quickly demonstrated her ability when she faced Donna Vekic in the opening round.
After beating the 24-year-old Croatian in straight sets, Bara went on to beat Alison van Uytvanck in the second round after the Belgian retired when trailing in the second set. However Sofia Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion, proved too strong an opponent in the third round.
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