While it may be too early to declare a full comeback, there’s no doubt this victory has a sweet taste of triumph after a hellish personal journey. Lucas Pouille, now ranked 670th, secured his spot in the Roland Garros main draw, following a decisive victory on Thursday, May 25, against Jurij Rodionov (1-6, 7-5, 6-0) during the third qualifying round. On Court 14, a semi-underground arena nestled behind Suzanne Lenglen court, where he has held his ground since the first of his three qualifying matches, the 29-year-old French player toppled the world’s 134th rank in an atmosphere worthy of the Davis Cup’s finest moments.
Having fallen into the oblivion of the world rankings after months of injuries, doubts, and depression, the former world number 10 nearly almost quit tennis for good in the fall of 2022. “I started having a darker side and fell into a depression that led me, after Roland [Garros]to sleep one hour a night and to drink alone,” he confided at length in French daily sports newspaper The Team, in March. “I was sinking into something bleak. I’d wake up with bloodshot eyes. I was in a rough phase. And I made the decision to say stop. For my mental health, I had to quit.”
At the beginning of November 2022, he attended the ATP Masters 1000 Paris to cheer on his friend Gilles Simon, who was playing his final tournament before retiring. Journalists handed him the microphone, mentioning the Paris 2024 Olympics, an experience he’s never had. “It’s been on my mind. And as I was leaving Bercy, I said to my wife: ‘I’m going to play tennis again.'”
‘It’s been so long since I’ve experienced this’
Invited by the French Open to compete in the qualifying rounds, Pouille did justice to his precious qualification. After defeating Czech Tomas Machac, ranked 127 in the ATP, on Monday, May 22 (7-5, 6-3), and then young Taiwanese Tseng Chun-hsin, 21, and ranked 215thon Wednesday, May 24 (5-7, 6-3, 6-0), he overcame the final hurdle with a courageous victory over Belarusian-born Austrian Jurij Rodionov.
In the first set, Pouille appeared shaky and struggled against the precision and aggressiveness of his left-handed opponent. His positioning was off, his attempts at powerful shots overly ambitious, leading to frequent errors. “Come on, snap out of it, Lucas,” said a bold spectator. “Come on, there’s plenty of room,” added another. With his pride provoked, the Frenchman responded, rallying the crowd with his fist triggered, and the spectators were only too eager to amplify their cries of “Lu-cas.” Reinvigorated, he staged an impressive comeback. Breaking Rodionov’s serve at 6-5, he evened the match to one set all. From that moment onwards, it was as if there was only one player on the court, and Pouille dealt a swift 6-0 defeat to the Austrian.
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