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College path leads Léolia Jeanjean to career renaissance at Roland Garros
The former junior standout rediscovered her form after an unbeaten run playing at Lynn University, and has stunned two Top 50 players en route to the third round of her home major.
Published May 27, 2022
The college path has been long seen as a credible—if often under-utilized—path to professional tennis, and even in spite of the demands placed on the modern player, an academic pivot has hardly ended a talented athlete’s hopes of Grand Slam glory.
France’s Léolia Jeanjean is the latest product of the college system, and her fairytale run to the third round of Roland Garros with two Top 50 stunners couldn’t be a more loudly ringing endorsement.
“A lot of players actually went and played college,” Jeanjean reminded journalists during the English portion of her press conference. “Cameron Norrie played for TCU. A lot of girls and guys played college, and I think it's a good thing for some people, because it makes you grow as a person. It makes you see life differently. I think it's just important for your life to take this path if you can.”
A junior contemporary of players like two-time quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva, college was not merely a path, but a refuge when a career-threatening knee injury forced her off the pro circuit. She completed most of her education while playing for Baylor University before hitting her athletic stride at Lynn University, a Division II school where she compiled an undefeated 2019 season in both singles and doubles.
“I did a lot of things,” she said of her studies. “Bachelor in sociology, Bachelor in criminal justice, and a Master's in finance and investment. So, it's like my life: it goes in different directions.”
It was that level of dominance that sparked hopes that Jeanjean could once again compete on an elite level.
"I think [college] is a good thing for some people, because it makes you grow as a person. It makes you see life differently. I think it's just important for your life to take this path if you can." Léolia Jeanjean
“I just wanted to give myself another chance, because in my head since I was good when I was like 14, 15, I'm like why I can't be good 10 years later?”
Now 26, Jeanjean is making up for lost time at warp speed, knocking out pre-tournament dark horse Nuria Parrizas-Diaz and former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova to find herself on the verge of a Grand Slam second week in her main draw debut—all without the loss of a set.
“What's happening right now,” she beams, “it's really something I never imagined before. You know, when I stop playing for four, five years, I never told myself I'd be in the third round of a Grand Slam.
“The fact that I never gave up, I always believed in myself, it's probably why I'm here today.”
Tentatively projected to enter the world’s Top 150 regardless of how she fares against Irina-Camelia Begu on Saturday, Jeanjean admits this result has already redefined her career projectory.
“It will make life easier,” she says through translation. “I can certainly pay a coach, pay my tickets when I go to tournaments. I can actually travel around further away. I can actually have staff. So, this will change everything, certainly.”
Jeanjean still has big dreams left to accomplish, and while she now has the means to “be what [she] might have been,” (George Eliot) what burns brightest of all is the drive to do it—otherwise known as “the swagger of a college kid.” (T.I.)
“It's only my second year on the tour. Although I'm 26 years old, I want to say that mentally it's like being 19. I have less experience than Elsa Jacquemot who has played three Roland Garros.
“For me, I'm a totally newbie. I see myself playing many years.”