Paris |  Qualifiers set on the path to success

The 16 qualifiers were finally determined on Friday, when the remaining eight 3rd-round matches were played, sending Sara Errani, Katie Volynets and Tamara Zidansek, amongst others, into the main draw of the French Open.

I will invest my winnings in my tennis, unfortunately, I started playing professionally a little over a year ago after college [Old Dominion University]. I do financial all myself. It means I’ll travel more with my coach. It means I’ll take care of my body more. Get a trainer, or maybe my own physio. I still think I need to pass a couple of rounds for a physio. It will take away a lot of pressure financially. Yuliia Starodubtseva

Errani, a former Roland Garros finalist from Italy who finished as the runner-up to Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros 12 years ago, narrowly beat Elena-Gabriela Ruse from Romania, 7-6(8) 7-6(4), and earned herself a crack at Anna Karolina Schmiedlova from Slovakia in the 1st-round.

Last Sunday, Errani was winning the doubles title in Rome with Jasmine Paolini in front of a jam-packed crowd on Stadio Centrale, and, 2 days later, after jumping on a plane that evening and practicing for just 1 hour on Monday, she was out on Court Suzanne Lenglen, playing her 1st round of qualifying.

On Friday, Errani won her 3rd qualifying match on Lenglen in 4 days.

“Tired, very tired,” she told “I love it, but it’s also my job. I think many people have to go to work when they are tired, so I’m lucky it’s something that I love to do.

“But I’m very happy because this is why you do it. Tennis, it gives me a lot. Some good emotions, so I think I play for that.”

Heading into 2024, Errani thought this might be her last year, but now she will go directly into Wimbledon’s main singles draw, and is not so sure.

“We will see, of course,” Errani said. “If I finish the year in maybe Top 100 and I’m still feeling good physically, why not to continue? When I don’t want to do it anymore, I will stop.”

37-year old Errani is by far the oldest of the qualifiers, 8 years senior to Brazil’s Laura Pigossi who is the next most heavily decorated of this year’s 16 qualifiers, having advanced to the main draw with a 6-2 6-2 win over Cristina Dinu from Romania.

Katie Volynets assured her place in the main draw thanks to her win over Oksana Selekhmeteva.

© Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

22-year-old Volynets also booked her ticket into the main draw on Friday by defeating Oksana Selekhmeteva from Russia, 6-3 6-4, to make it 3 successive qualifying runs at the Grand Slams.

Volynets has yet to manage a main draw win at a major since she reached the 3rd-round at the Australian Open in 2023, also from qualifying, and would like to press on further in Paris this year.

The Californian began working with Argentine coach Alejandro Dulko last December, and is now hoping to take her game to the next level.

The former World No 74 has played 41 matches across all levels this season, winning 29 of them.

“We are just working on things all the time in general, whether it’s hard court, grass or clay,” she said of her time spent with Dulko, the brother and longtime coach of former World No 26 and doubles world No 1 Gisela Dulko. “I feel like it’s just a great perspective to have in my corner all the time.”

Volynets raced out to a 5-0 lead against Selekhmeteva, but was forced to battle from that moment on as the 21-year-old reeled her in and turned the contest into a physical battle.

“It was very difficult today,” Volynets said. “I was really happy that I was able to stick to the game plan that my coach and I devised together, just to enjoy court 14, because it’s a bigger court than the other two courts I’ve played on. I feel like I was playing well.”

Volynets had a formative experience earlier this month on the clay, facing World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the 2nd-round in Rome, where the American had a set and a break lead against the two-time major champion before falling in 3 sets.

“I think it was really good for me,” she said. “Having big goals, I want to play against the best in the world, so to get this opportunity when I’m 22, it was really great thing for me to see what I need to do to improve, to see what works against players ranked that high as well – it was a really nice opportunity for me.”

Semi-finalis in 2021 Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek got the better of Hailey Baptiste to claim her place in the main draw.

© Philippe Montigny / FFT

2021 semi-finalist Tamara Zidansek, a 26-year-old Slovenian, now coached by former ATP pro Blaz Kavcic, defeated 21-year old American Hailey Baptiste, the 6th seed, 7-5 1-6 6-3, to reach the main draw in Paris for the 6th time.

Three years ago, then ranked 85, Zidansek went on a dream run to the Last 4 on the Parisian clay. She reached as high as 22 in the WTA rankings in 2022, but has since fallen out of the top 100, and is recovering from bacterial pneumonia.

“I’m going to remember my years in Roland-Garros for the rest of my life as something special,” the World No 131 told after her win. “Getting through qualies is not easy these days, you can’t take it for granted. Hopefully now I can recover and take my experience from last year, playing the first round and losing, and play better.”

Yuliia Starodubtseva, 29th seed from Ukraine, won her 3rd match in 4 days, dashing Canada’s Marian Stakusic’s hopes, 6-3 6-2, to secure a spot in the main draw of a Grand Slam for only the second time.

“The feeling itself is incredible,” the 24-year-old told “I’m just super, super, super happy with that performance last three matches.”

Starodubtseva secured €73,000 in winnings, which is roughly one-third of her career prize money, and could well prove life-changing.

“I will invest my winnings in my tennis, unfortunately,” Starodubtseva said. “I started playing professionally a little over a year ago after college [Old Dominion University]. I do financial all myself.”

Whatever happens, the quality of Starodubtseva’s tennis life will improve dramatically.

“It means I’ll travel more with my coach,” she said. “It means I’ll take care of my body more. Get a trainer, or maybe my own physio. I still think I need to pass a couple of rounds for a physio.

“It will take away a lot of pressure financially,” she added. “Just not having money in your mind helps you play better, for sure. You have a safety net where you can relax a little bit and take care of everything else.”

Ukrainian Yuliia Starodubtseva defeated promising young Canadian Marina Stakusic to reach the main draw of Roland-Garros for the first time.

© Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

The stakes, in terms of money and rankings points, are high for all those seeking qualification, with an appearance in a 1st-round match netting €20,000, while advancing to the 2nd and 3rd rounds was worth €28,000 and €41,000, respectively.

On the line in a 3rd-round qualifying match was an additional €32,000 for advancing, which adds up to €73,000 on qualification, more than many people make in a single year and a significant amount for these players trying to survive on the tour.

It is estimated that professionals need to be ranked somewhere between 80 and 100 to create a positive cash flow for the year, as it is expensive travelling the world, and this doesn’t include paying a coach or a trainer.

There are also ranking points in play, 10 for appearing in the 1st round, with the possibility of 70 for a win, which can be enough to lift a player ranked outside No 100 into the low 90s, and sufficient to secure a major main draw without having to qualify.

The repercussions add pressure.

“One million percent,” said Baptiste after her heartbreaking loss to Zidansek. “It happened a couple of weeks ago when I was in Rome. I had match points in my first qualifying match. If I won that match, I think I would have been in main draw at Wimbledon.”

As in 2022, No.16 seed Slovakia's Rebecca Sramkova fought her way through the qualifiers at Roland-Garros.

© Julien Crosnier / FFT

Meanwhile, 21-year old Julia Avdeeva fired 74 aces in 5 matches to win an ITF tournament earlier this year, and made it through her 3rd-round qualifying match against Aussie Olivia Gadecki, 1-6 6-3 6-2.

Lucija Ciric Bagaric, at 20 is the youngest qualifier, and had career winnings of $69,030, which she has now surpassed in one week, after beating Sara Saito from Japan, 7-6(5) 6-1, on Friday.

Finally, Slovakia’s Rebecca Sramkova, the 16th seed, edged past Panna Udvardy, the 27th seeded Hungarian, 7-5 3-6 7-6(2).

In the end, 13 of the 16 qualifiers were seeded, and the average age was 24.6 years, with an average ranking of No 134.

While none of these qualifiers, based on their ranking, are expected to win, history suggests that some of them will, since they are already in a groove, and accustomed to Roland Garros’s quirky conditions.



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