Leolia Jeanjean, playing in her maiden Grand Slam, is a former big hope of French tennis who ended up living on minimum wage after a knee injury suffered when she was 15 kept her off the courts for two years.
Local wildcard Leolia Jeanjean caused a major upset at the French Open by thrashing ex-world number one Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-2 in the second round on Thursday, bursting into the limelight as she resurrected her career in spectacular fashion.
The 26-year-old Jeanjean, playing in her maiden Grand Slam, is a former big hope of French tennis who ended up living on minimum wage after a knee injury suffered when she was 15 kept her off the courts for two years.
Dropped by Nike, who had given her a 10-year sponsorship deal, and by the French federation, who had assigned her a full-time coach when she was 12, Jeanjean went to study in the United States at the Lynn University in Florida.
She came back to tennis with a degree in finance, only for her return to be slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I lived on minimum wage and I didn't live from day-to-day, but week after week. I put all the money I had into a week's worth of tournaments and if they went well I got another week, but if they went badly I didn't play for two months because it was financially impossible," she said.
On Thursday, Jeanjean outfoxed eighth seed Pliskova, a semi-finalist here in 2017, to reach the third round and collect at least 125,800 euros ($134,656.32) in prize money.
"I could not try to overpower her, it was impossible, so I had to try to derail her and it worked perfectly," she said on court Simonne Mathieu.
"It (the prize money) will make life easier. I can certainly pay a coach, pay my tickets when I go to tournaments. I can actually travel around further away. I can actually have staff. So this will change everything, certainly," she said.
Jeanjean, whose early rise drew comparisons with Martina Hingis, will next face Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, the 30th seed, or Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu and will break into the top 150 after starting the tournament as world number 227.
"I don't have an explanation. I don't even realise what's happening. I know I'm 26. It's my first Grand Slam. I thought I would have lost in the first round in two sets, and I found myself beating a top-10 player," she said.
"So honestly, I have nothing else to say. I don't really know how it's possible, what's happening. I just try to give my best to play my tennis, and it's working so far."