They say that life begins at 40. Dutch ace, Jean-Julien Rojer will certainly feel that is true, following his remarkable Grand Slam triumph with El Salvdorian, Marcelo Arevalo in the final of the French Open men’s doubles event this weekend.
My story has been one of hard work, climbing the ranks, fighting every week. On the way I faced difficult moments, but things came little by little and I always believed I could do it Marcelo Arevalo
In winning the title (the second of his career following his Grand Slam doubles win with Romanian, Horia Tecau in New York in 2017), he carved out a piece of tennis history for himself, becoming the oldest player to win a Grand Slam title in the Open era.
We may have been privileged to have enjoyed an era which included singles greats Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal, but age wise, Jean-Julien Rojer tops them all.
Inspired by Andre Agassi at a young age, he learnt his tennis in the Netherlands, at the Racing Club, Curaçao Island, before travelling to Miami when he was just 13. His long professional career has seen him win 32 doubles titles, achieving a career high ranking of 3 in the world following the first Grand Slam doubles title at Wimbledon in 2015. Then, he was ‘just’ 33 years old.
Seven years on, at the age of 40, he has claimed his fourth, in Paris. A remarkable achievement.
Not to miss out on the pages of history, his partner, Marcelo Arevalo, 31, has become the first player from central America to win a Grand Slam title. Some feat for a player whose unfavoured journey into tennis began in the cattle ranching region of Sonsonate in south-west El Salvador, when he was just six.
“I wasn’t privileged, but I cannot complain either,” said Arevalo, who stands 6’4”. “I always had the support of my family, which is the most important thing. That gives you a lot of security. We weren’t a family with lots of money, but my parents always made an effort to send me to the tournaments. Obviously, you had to make sacrifices when you travelled.”
As an up- and-coming prospect, excitedly drawn to the emergence of Americans Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras in the 1990s, Arevalo would take the long bus rides to lower ranked tournaments in South America, where he would often share rooms (once sharing a twin with five other professionals) to minimise his costs. On site, he would string the rackets of fellow professionals in order to eat. After a hernia restricted his movement in 2018, he finally gave up playing singles on the tour in order to concentrate on his doubles.
“My story has been one of hard work, climbing the ranks, fighting every week. On the way I faced difficult moments, but things came little by little and I always believed I could do it.”
Arevalo is perhaps the ultimate example to other young tennis players aspiring to the status of Grand Slam champion.
Unsurprisingly, Rojer and Arevalo’s victory at Roland Garros didn’t come easily.
As 12th seeds, they were not expected to win the tournament, but after the shock quarter-final defeat of the top seeds, Britain’s Joe Salisbury, 30, and his long-standing American partner Rajeev Ram, 38 to the unseeded pairing, Croatian Ivan Dodig and American Austin Krajicek 3-6 7-6, 7-6, the business end of the draw suddenly opened up.
The fact that Salisbury and Ram, the current US Open title holders, failed to convert any of their five match points will haunt them, particularly as Dodig and Krajicek went on to reach the final following their semi-final win over fourth seeds Marcel Granollers from Spain and his Argentinean partner, Horacio Zeballos 3-6 6-3 6-4. They had also defeated the sixth seeded, Anglo Dutch pairing of Neal Skupski, 32, and Wesley Koolhof, 33, earlier in the tournament, as well as taking out Britain’s Jonny O’Mara and his American partner Jackson Withrow in the third round.
The British Finnish pairing of Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara were edged out in a third set tie-break in the quarter finals to the eventual winners, while other British interest ended with the defeat of two times Grand Slam champions Jamie Murray and Brazil’s Bruno Soares to the American pairing of Mackenzie McDonald and Tommy Paul, 7-6 4-6 6-3.
At the other end of the age scale from Rojer, 18 year old American Coco Gauff, playing alongside fellow American Jessica Pegula, lost in three sets to the wild carded French pairing, Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic in the women’s doubles final.
Gauff and Pegula began their final strongly, winning the first set but from then only won 5 more games in sets two and three. For Garcia and Mladenovic, it was the fulfilment of a restored friendship (following a public fall out), as well as a repeat French doubles title, something which was very special for them both.
“We won Roland-Garros in 2016. It has not always been easy to play because of my physical issues, so I want to thank Caroline for playing with me. Winning this title with you is a dream and I thank you,” said Mladenovic.
Garcia was equally delighted with their win.
“I had the chance to experience this six years ago and I am really happy to team up with Kristina again. To get the title at Roland-Garros, there is no better place. I have lots of emotions. It was a great final and a big challenge.”
Mladenovic has won the women’s doubles title in Paris on four occasions now, while this is a second for Garcia.
For Gauff, it was her second final defeat in consecutive days, losing out to World No 1, Poland’s Iga Swiatek (who had also defeated Pegula in their quarter final singles encounter), a day earlier.
“Hopefully we can win one in the future,” Gauff, 18, said after her double disappointment.
Gauff and Pegula fought their way through to the final with an impressive win over fellow Americans Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend 6-4 7-6, while Garcia and Mladenovic defeated Ukkraine’s Lyudmyla Kichenok and Latvian Jelena Ostapenko in their semi.
Another Ukrainian, Marta Kostyuk, playing with Elena Gabriela Ruse from Romania, ended British interest, overcoming Samnatha Murray Shannon and Heather Watson 6-2 7-6.
In the mixed event, there was a debut Grand Slam win for Ena Shibahara and Wesley Koolhof, who defeated Norwegian Ulrikke Eikeri (playing her first ever mixed Grand Slam event) and Belgian, Joran Vliegen 7-6 6-2, a final which turned on the Japanese Dutch pairing winning 5 consecutive points from 5-2 down in the first set tie break, and 10 consecutive points to race to a 4-1 lead in the second set. They won the match on a Shibahara ace.