In what is only her second appearance at a Grand Slam and her debut at the French Open, Clara Burel has surely given her compatriots plenty to cheer about. The 19-year-old Frenchwoman has made it through to the third round at Roland Garros, where she will face Zhang Shuai. Zhang, who has been ranked as high as world #23, currently sits 318 places above Burel in the rankings and beat her 6-3 7-6 just last week at the Strasbourg International.
But although Burel is still making her first steps on the WTA Tour, she enjoyed an outstanding career as a junior. Burel reached the final in the girls’ singles at the Australian Open and the US Open in 2018, going onto claim the junior world #1 ranking that year, and she will surely have gained real confidence from her two wins so far at the French Open. The question now is: how far can Burel go in Paris?
Olympic Success and Revenge
In 2018, Kaja Juvan beat Burel 7-6 6-4 in Buenos Aires in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games final, denying the French teenager the gold medal. But, Burel did enjoy success against Juvan in the mixed doubles. Playing with Hugo Gaston, who stunned Stan Wawrinka on Friday in Paris, Burel beat the Slovakian pair of Juvan and Marko Miladinovic in the quarterfinals, eventually winning the bronze medal. And, two years on from that frustrating loss in the gold medal match, Burel had her revenge on Juvan.
She stepped onto court to face the Slovakian after a hard-fought win over Arantxa Rus, herself a former-Australian Open girls’ singles champion, in the first round in Paris. There was initially little to split the pair in that match. Rus took the first set in a tiebreak, winning it 9-7, but Burel hung tough to force a second-set tiebreak, which she won 7-2. As a result, the momentum was with her heading into the decider and Burel closed out a 6-7 7-6 6-3 win.
Juvan, meanwhile, had beaten three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in straight-sets in her Roland Garros opener, losing just six games in the process. But she did not enjoy such a dominant day against Burel, with the French young gun looking comfortable and composed throughout. The first set was a close affair and went to a tiebreak, but Burel won it 8-6 and she cruised thereafter, winning the second 6-2 to claim her second main-draw win at a Grand Slam.
Coming back from injury
Burel is set to jump over 240 places in the WTA rankings after her efforts at Roland Garros. That will be a welcome boost for Burel, who had been due to make her debut at the French Open last year, only for injury to intervene. After damaging her left wrist, Burel underwent two surgeries which kept her out of action for eight months between April and November.
But, she did bounce back quickly, reaching the final in her first event after returning to action at an ITF-event in Monastir, Tunisia, where she lost to Carole Monnet. Three months later, she won her first ITF title, beating Eleonora Molinaro of Luxembourg to win the ITF-level Engie Open de l’Isere in Grenoble in her home country.
Shortly thereafter, Burel appeared in the main draw at the WTA Lyon Open, but lost in the first round to Jil Teichmann. The suspension of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic then halted any further progress she might have made and, when the season resumed in August, Burel found herself playing, for the most part, at ITF-level.
However, she returned to the WTA Tour at the Strasbourg International two weeks ago, where she beat Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round before, as mentioned above, losing to Zhang. But although she was beaten in that match, Burel put in a valiant effort and held two set points in the second up 6-5, only for Zhang to rally and go onto complete a 6-3 7-6 victory.
Looking ahead to the third round
Burel will still surely head into her third-round encounter with Zhang with confidence. She will have to contend with the pressure of expectation, with only two other French players, Caroline Garcia and Fiona Ferro, still standing at the French Open. But Burel will also be able to count on the support of the French crowd, with a share of the 1000 spectators allowed into the grounds sure to be cheering her on against Zhang.
And, even if she is defeated, Burel has already become the youngest French woman to reach the third round at Roland Garros since former-world #11 Alize Cornet in 2008. In doing so, Burel has established herself as one of the more exciting young players in the women’s game and the future looks bright for the 19-year-old. Her run at the 2020 French Open is certainly one that is set to be remembered. But do not be surprised if she betters it in the years to come.
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