From the age of 12, Léolia Jeanjean had been promised a golden future in tennis. But an injury forced her to stop everything when she was a teenager. Today, more than ten years after leaving high school, the 26-year-old Frenchwoman is in the race for the 3rd round of Roland-Garros when it is the first Grand Slam tournament of her career.
The story of Léolia Jeanjean, who is about to play the third round of Roland-Garros against Irina-Camélia Bégu on Saturday, May 28, is like an American fairy tale: the incredible comeback of an ancient tennis prodigy who lost it all.
“I never would have imagined”: after her victory in the 2nd round against the Czech Karolina Pliskova, 8th in the world (6-2, 6-2), the 26-year-old Frenchwoman struggled to achieve it. “I thought I would be eliminated in the first round in two sets, and now I just beat one of the top ten players in the world, it’s crazy!”
Returning to the professional circuit at the end of 2020, Léolia Jeanjean, 227th in the world, is the first player with the lowest ranking to surpass a member of the top 10 women’s Roland-Garros since 1988. A performance that shows how far Léolia Jeanjean has come from afar.
When she started hitting the yellow ball at the age of six, Léolia Jeanjean was quickly listed as a tennis prodigy. At the age of twelve, the Roland-Garros National Training Center (CNE) assigned her a full-time coach, a first, while the young woman had already signed a seven-figure contract with Nike. He spent a year at the CNE and even hit the ball regularly with Gilles Simon: “I was his pet,” Léolia Jeanjean tells the team. In 2009, at the age of 14, she was already playing her second junior Roland-Garros tournament, and the question arose of letting her jump at the end.
Imagine. A 13-year-old girl sees paradise and is in hell, + knees + dreams + money. But Léolia Jeanjean makes new wings and 12 years + later, she returns to the sky of all possibilities. There are trips that define champions ❤️ pic.twitter.com/1Tw7tfXq8P
– Benoit Maylin (@BenoitMaylin) May 26, 2022
But at age 14, his knee gave way. Triple dislocation of the patella, one year of rehabilitation, then a relapse. The beautiful story ends suddenly. The sponsors, the French Tennis Federation, all those who praised it, are suddenly absent subscribers.
His parents advise him to concentrate on his studies, saying that there will always be time to return to tennis later. Gets high school by mail. He then went into exile in the United States, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and a master’s degree in wealth financing. Many things have nothing to do with each other, but it’s like my life: it goes a little in all directions, ”he laughs today.
Not to mention, however, the darkest moments. “It was very hard, I went through very difficult times when I thought I would never play tennis again,” recalls Léolia Jeanjean. “It still took me a while to get over it and use it as a force to be reckoned with.”
That year, then, he started from scratch or almost, with no one to help him. “I lived on RSA (Solidarity Active Income) and APL (Personalized Housing Assistance). one more week, if it went wrong, I didn’t play for two months because it was financially impossible “, Léolia Jeanjean recently recalled.
But on the ITF (second division tennis) circuit, the sensations return, the results too. While she is the 1,180th in the world in the WTA, she spends two years reaching the top 240 and earning lucrative qualifying invitations for Grand Slam tournaments. A few good performances later and a cannonball start to the season (27 wins to nine defeats), he climbed to 227th place in the world. And Roland-Garros gives him the benefit of a wildcards for the 2022 tournament.
Jeanjean: “Prizes change my life. I can have a coach, a structure, go abroad, go on excursions, that changes everything.” The 3rd round will win you 125,800 euros. He recently confided that he had experienced RSA and APL. #Roland Garros
– Tennis Magazine (@ TennisMagazine1) May 26, 2022
At the end of this Roland-Garros, he is guaranteed to be at least in the Top 150. And thanks to his presence in the third round of Roland-Garros, he is also guaranteed to receive at least 125,800 euros. Enough to finance several months of tennis and to consider more calmly the continuation of his second career.
However, Léolia Jeanjean prefers not to think about the following: “I live in the moment, I’m not euphoric, I’m enjoying. (…) Finally, I’m where I’ve always wanted to be. From a very young age.”