At Roland Garros,
Happy who, like Leolia Jeanjean, has made a long trip. Qualified this Thursday for the third round of Roland-Garros by exploding the ex-world number 1 Pliskova (6-2, 6-2), the ex-little prodigy of French tennis is finally living the dream he was promised when she was a kid. At 26, the Frenchwoman is playing her first Grand Slam tournament with stars in her eyes but without taking herself too seriously either.
“I don’t get too worked up in general, whether it’s in life or anything. I try to take advantage of the moment, ”said the player after her victory in the first round on Monday against the Spaniard Diaz.
All those who know her well will confirm it to you, Leolia Jeanjean is a normal girl, who likes to enjoy life. “She is super pleasant to live with, she is smiling, says nonsense. It’s not a robot like many gamers. She knows how to live. If you have to drink a beer, she will drink a beer”, summarizes Guillaume Herbach with a smile.
A gifted tennis player considered a star at 12
This tennis coach, based in La Grande Motte near the parental home, knows the player well. Twelve years ago, he was the sparring partner of the one everyone already saw breaking everything on the women’s circuit. Nicknamed the Mozart of tennis, a sort of feminine Richard Gasquet, Jeanjean won almost everything among young people.
Coach of the kid when she was 12, Nicolas Pietrowski remembers. “I only had it for a year but it was like being in a washing machine. That year was amazing. The pressure, the stress, the expectations… You are already signing contracts with Nike and Babolat. As soon as you went to a place, it was a fairground phenomenon. There was really incredible expectation around her, ”says the man who is now sports director at the Stade Français tennis section.
Injuries, a departure to the USA before the comeback
But the beautiful story will stop in adolescence. Three dislocations of the patella will take Jeanjean away from the paths of glory. To avoid lamenting his fate, the teenager leaves for the United States to play tennis but also for studies. In five years, she won three diplomas “which have nothing to do” smiles the player. “I did a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a Master’s degree in wealth investment finance. So nothing to do, but like my life: it goes a little in all directions,” laughs Jeanjean.
And it’s true that you have to hang on to follow in the footsteps of a player adept at the D system. For a time at the RSA, Jeanjean often struggled to make ends meet by going to play tournaments across Europe. But that’s also how she met her new coach. “Three months ago, she was in Porto, we had an Airbnb with my player [Dartron], we had one place left, she was all alone so we told her to come. We did a few training sessions and after that we stayed in touch, ”says Thomas Delgado, co-founder of the Smash-It academy, who is training him in his first Roland-Garros.
The Covid marks a turning point
Resourceful, “Léo”, as she is nicknamed, was also able to count on the kindness of those close to her. While she was smashing everything on the American circuit, she was stopped in full swing when the Covid arrived in 2020. It was then that she called Guillaume Herbach, her former sparring partner, who became a coach. at La Grande-Motte and ready to help him for free.
“On May 11, 2020, the first day of deconfinement, she took the train and we went to my parents’ house in Lauret, a small village in the Gard. Unlike Montpellier where it was not yet possible to play, there we had access to the pitches. We were able to retrain and then we came back to La Grande Motte. The stated objective was to compete in a Grand Slam. You could believe it or not, she wanted to give herself two years to give herself a full chance, ”says the coach.
“She is not at all organized like a pro”
Ranked 1002nd in the WTA, Jeanjean will go up the slope by settling in September 2020 in Toulouse alongside Kevin Blandy, physical trainer at the Stade Toulousain tennis section. The one who also trains Hugo Gaston physically fixes it. Even he has not yet succeeded in convincing the player, now the 227th player in the world, to prefer quinoa more often to McDonald’s.
“She’s not organized like a pro at all. She is not ready for the sacrifices to be made in relation to the management of a career. She has to make sacrifices on nutrition, sleep, recovery, organization or even the relationship with the coaches. She lives right and left, and lives on her abilities which are super high but she still lacks a lot of things to go much higher. Even if what she is doing is already great, ”slices Kevin Blandy who has not been able to reach his protege since the start of the tournament.
“If it reaches the top 50, I will not be surprised”
However, he, like all those who rub shoulders with Leolia, are unanimous: his talent is immense. And at 26, the best may just be beginning. “It’s Cinderella. I hear a lot of people say that the circle is complete, but no, it’s only the beginning. She must continue. If it hits the top 50, I won’t be surprised. With this kind of girl, this kind of profile, anything is possible,” Nicolas Pietrowski gets carried away.
For the ascent to continue, be careful not to change Leo’s personality too much. “If we format it in a framework that is too rigid, it will cause it to explode. Bring her more and more towards that, OK, but you have to keep her human side and not format her, ”assures Guillaume Herbach. The only way to make up for lost time in tennis without throwing away everything the champion learned in real life.