PARIS – Five years ago, 15-year-old Ana Konjuh held virtually every big junior title there was.
She won the Orange Bowl and the Eddie Herr in Dec. 2012 (actually, she was still 14 then).
She won the Australian Open juniors weeks later over Katerina Siniakova in the final (and also teamed up with Canadian Carol Zhao to win the doubles).
Konjuh reached the semis in both singles and doubles in the French Open juniors, and the singles semis at Wimbledon.
And she capped off her junior career with a US Open junior title, during which she defeated reigning French Open (adult version) champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, and American CiCi Bellis in the third round.
Those were fairly lofty credentials to bring to a pro career. By the time she was 19, last July, she hit the top 20 for a week and spent the entire season in the top 50.
And then, she disappeared.
Well, Konjuh is back for this French Open, after rehab following a second elbow surgery.
Out of the top 100
Konjuh missed four months after the first elbow surgery, which came shortly after she began her pro career after the Australian Open in 2014. She was just 16.
After last year’s US Open, she had a second surgery.
The Croat tried to come back in January; clearly, she wanted to play the Australian Open. But after a brief outing at a tuneup event in Brisbane, she fell off the charts again.
Her name appeared on plenty of entry lists. But she always ended up withdrawing. This time, she stuck.
Tough first round
Konjuh doesn’t have an easy one in her return to the courts. She faces No. 23 seed Carla Suarez Navarro.
To that end (purely coincidentally, no doubt), she played practice sets with Suárez Navarro’s countrywoman Garbiñe Muguruza Saturday.
It seemed definitely a random pairing. And if there was one takeaway from it, it’s that nearly all the points were pretty short.
Konjuh is definitely the epitome of today’s “aggressive player”. Which, in essence means that she can hit a lot of winners, but also cough up a lot of unforced errors.
She coughed up a bushel on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Muguruza is looking for a return to form.
The 24-year-old won one match in Miami, and none in Indian Wells before running the table at a smaller event in Monterrey, Mexico in early April.
Her clay-court season has been less than inspiring. She retired in her first match in Stuttgart, lost in the third round in Madrid and lost a third-set tiebreak to Daria Gavrilova in her first match in Rome. That one was a bit of a shocker.
(Let’s note, though, that Muguruza is ranked No. 3 in the world. It’s not like she’s having a terrible life).
The Spaniard shocked the tennis world in 2016 when she defeated Serena Williams in the Roland Garros final.
(If you thought the frost in the air during Muguruza’s on-court consults with coach Sam Sumyk was limited to those brief encounters, you can see on this video that she pretty much ignores him – except when she’s arguing with him – as he’s non-stop coaching his butt off on the practice court. Brrr…..)
Muguruza has a tough opening match as well.
She faces another former champion in Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova has started up slowly after missing months because of a wrist issue. But one thing she does know how to do is win in Paris.
Who else is back?
Belinda Bencic is back
The former No. 7, still just 21, has been out since Indian Wells.
Trivia: Bencic and Konjuh, a pair of 1997s, reached the Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles final in 2012 when Konjuh was 14, and Bencic just turned 15.
They lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend.
That’s quite a crop of four players to track, in terms of the ups and downs of their careers.
Bencic has played just three tournaments this season, a year that began with so much promise when she upset Venus Williams in the first round of the Australian Open.
The Swiss player had battled back at the end of 2017, after missing nearly six months after wrist surgery and watching her ranking fall out of the top 300. This year, it was a foot injury. And Bencic has had periodic back problems.
Between the two of them, they could start a franchise.
Bencic got the best draw of all. She’ll meet qualifier Deborah Chiesa of Italy, Chiesa is a year older than Bencic, but currently ranked a career best No. 163.
This is not only Chiesa’s first main-draw appearance in Paris, it’s her first appearance in Paris – period – since she made the doubles draw in the junior girls’ event five years ago.