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On the Trail of Young French Talents – Episode 3

In the wake of Diane Parry, the “little thumbs” of the Team Jeunes Talents are charting their own path towards the professional circuit. While the one-handed backhand hopeful has recently taken several steps to climb to the big leagues – third round of Grand Slam at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, first WTA quarter-final (in Palermo), best ranking this week (76th) – her young friends from the TJT pass the milestones she experienced a few years earlier. On Sunday, 17-year-old Jenny Lim, who fell after Astrid Lew Yan Foon – also a member of the Team – in the quarter-finals, experienced the joys of a first professional title by winning the ITF W15 tournament in Les Contamines. Emotions shared with us during an interview. In previous weeks, since episode 2, Gabriel Debru, Luca Van Assche and Arthur Géa have also distinguished themselves. By marking their path to new accomplishments to mark with a white stone.

Gabriel Debru

Age: 16 years old
Ranking: junior world number 1, 680th in the ATP ranking as of 07/25/2022 (best ranking)
Performances: winner of Roland-Garros junior in singles, finalist of Wimbledon junior in doubles

After his coronation at Roland-Garros juniors, Gabriel Debru played Wimbledon in this age category. Result: a second round in singles, but, above all, a final in doubles and a place of world number 1 at the end of the tournament. His last among the juniors. Gabriel will now devote himself fully to the professional circuit.

A month and a half later (at the time of the question), with more hindsight, what does this title at Roland-Garros junior in singles represent for you?
I am very happy to have won Roland-Garros junior, it was a goal in my career as a junior. To get there, it took a lot of work, over several years. I am therefore proud of the work accomplished, and I will continue my efforts to give myself the means to win even more important tournaments.

You were expected there, did you feel the pressure of the favorite during the tournament? If so, how did you manage it?
Favorite, I don’t know. There were a lot of good players in the draw. I didn’t put unnecessary pressure on myself, I stayed focused on my goals. This is what allowed me to play relaxed throughout the tournament.

What was the key moment in your career at Roland-Garros junior?
The semi-final (won 6/1 0/6 6/3 against Dino Prizmic) was, I think, the hardest match, either physically or mentally. It was the “course” to pass in order to be able to win the tournament. The match was very intense and I’m happy to have won it.

What milestone do you think you have reached lately, what do you think you have improved the most on in recent weeks?
I worked a lot on my attitude: staying very positive throughout the match, encouraging each other and showing determination. I think that’s my strength.
You discovered grass this year (with the J1 tournament in Nottingham then Wimbledon junior): how do you feel on this surface?
Never very easy to start playing on a new surface. But it was a pleasure to have been able to try the weed. I didn’t have the best results (in singles), but I got a lot of experience from it that will serve me for the future.

With your partner, Paul Inchauspé, what did you miss in the final to claim the doubles title at Wimbledon?
We missed it a bit. Too many errors, especially in return. We gave up a few more points than the other games, and that’s what cost us the victory. We played against a team (Olaf Pieczkowski and Jakub Menšík) who missed less than us, and I just want to say congratulations to them. They were better than us that day!

How did you feel seeing your name at the top of the world junior rankings the day after Wimbledon?
I was very happy to be world No. 1, it was also one of my goals with Roland-Garros. It’s a lot of work, so when you reach your goals you’re often happy, satisfied.

Had you planned for a while that Wimbledon would be your last junior tournament, where did you plan to stop the juniors once the world 1st place was achieved?
Yes, it was planned that Wimbledon would be my last junior tournament. I will now go to the professionals, I think it’s a good transition.

Luca Van Assche

Age: 18 years old
Ranking: 282nd worldwide as of 07/11/2022 (best ranking)
Performances: semi-finalist in the Challenger de Blois (first semi-final in Challenger), then quarter-final in Amersfoort

In January, Luca Van Assche won the ITF M15+H tournament in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, his first professional title. Since then, continuing his progression, he notably confirmed by reaching his first Challenger semi-final. In the ATP rankings, no player can claim to be younger and better ranked than him.

You were beyond the Top 1000 at the end of August 2021, and less than a year after deciding to fully embark on the pro circuit, you are now in the Top 300. Did you expect to rise so quickly or are you surprised you yourself?
It’s true that I went through the stages quite quickly. When I started playing my first Futures, I didn’t think I could be in this ranking today. I had the opportunity to play in Challenger from the beginning of my professional career thanks to wild cards. I won matches, and I realized that my level was not very far from the players ranked between 200th and 300th. It gave me confidence. I felt comfortable in tournaments of this level and it made me want to quickly take the Futures stage to be able to play Challenger as quickly as possible.

Do you have a ranking objective by the end of the season?
Not necessarily a fixed ranking objective. I don’t put up any barriers, and I want to see where my end of the season will take me. Of course, I strongly hope to go to Australia (early 2023).

What milestone do you think you have reached lately, what do you think you have improved the most on in recent weeks?
I think I’ve made a lot of progress on being consistent throughout a match, not having any swings in concentration and keeping the same intensity from the first point to the last.

After beating several Top 200, you offered yourself your first Top 150 in Amersfoort (Zizou Bergs), before losing in the quarter against Roberto Carballes Baéna, 85th. It was your 4th defeat in 4 games against a Top 100, but the scores were often tight. According to you, what makes the difference, for the moment, between the players of this level and you?
I think the difference is at the mental level. My level of play is no different from theirs, but they are emotionally stable throughout the game, and I still have some fluctuations on that.

What was the key moment of your career in Blois?
I think it was my first qualifying round. I had chained several defeats before this tournament, I had less confidence in myself. I won 6/4 in the 3rd after a long fight against a good player (Alexis Galarneau), it gave me back my confidence and it got me started on the rest of the tournament.

Have you had an unusual moment on the court recently?
I don’t know if it’s an unusual moment but I played a double with Arthur Fils and our coach asked us, at some point in the match, to go back to lob. Arthur therefore made a wooded lob return which went into the tree outside the court to our right, we both left in a fit of laughter which lasted a while!

Did you have time to visit Amersfoort?
No, I haven’t really had time to visit Amersfoort, it’s a small town, but I can say that there is a very good Italian restaurant where we went every day!

Arthur Gea

Age: 17 years old
Ranking: 34th in the world junior since 07/11/2022 (best ranking)
Performances: winner of the Astrid Bowl in Charleroi-Marcinelle (first title in J1), and finalist in doubles

In mid-July, Arthur Géa was selected for the U18 Individual European Championships in Switzerland, where he reached the third round. A few weeks earlier, Arthur had notably shone by winning his first title in Grade 1 among juniors.

After playing two quarters and a half in Grade 1, you won your first title in this category of tournament: how important is this stage for your journey?
The importance of having won this Grade 1 is that it allowed me to climb the rankings to be 34th in the world junior. Thanks to this tournament, I was able to reach the final draw of Wimbledon, and I will also be in that of the US Open. And this ranking also allows me to be able to play Futures, which are very important to start as soon as possible on the professional circuit.

Since the 11th, you are 34th in the world juniors, your best ranking. Have you set a ranking goal to achieve by the end of the year?
It’s true that being 34th in the world was satisfying for me, but I would like to enter the Top 20 as soon as possible. Even if my objectives are centered on the professional circuit, with the Futures.

What milestone do you think you have reached lately, what do you think you have improved the most on in recent weeks?
In the last few weeks, I think I’ve really managed to improve mentally, compared to my general state of mind on the court. I also made progress in the game, being more aggressive, going more forward.

What was the key moment in your career during the Astrid Bowl?
The moment that marked me the most during this tournament was my victory in the semi-finals against an opponent (Rei Sakamoto) who had just beaten me twice in previous tournaments. It freed me up for the final.

What was your best shot of the tournament?
Frankly, I played the tournament very simply, without too many crazy moves. But I would say: my winning comeback in the final on the match point at 6/5 in the third set (against Mihai Alexandru Coman). It was amazing to me.

Did you experience an unusual moment on the court during this tournament?
The only unusual moment of my tournament was during the prize giving. I had to give my speech right after the game and I couldn’t speak. The pressure had just dropped, and I was just crying (laughs)!

Have you had time to visit Charleroi? If so, what did you like or dislike?
No, unfortunately I could not visit the city. I had to run right after my match in the final to take the bus to Roland-Garros, it was the last one I couldn’t miss (laughs)!

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