PARIS (AP) — At the mere mention of Novak Djokovic’s name, at the mere thought of sharing a court with a 17-time Grand Slam champion and the French Open’s No. 1-seeded man, Daniel Elahi Galan broke into a wide smile Thursday.
He used these phrases: “really, really excited” and “really, really happy” and “really, really special.”
Galan is, after all, ranked 153rd and never had won so much as one main-draw match at any major tournament until this week. Making this run to the third round even more improbable: The 24-year-old from Colombia lost in qualifying at Roland Garros and only got into the bracket when other men withdrew from the field.
So, sure, it was a big deal for Galan to beat Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday. And, to be sure, a bigger deal to contemplate Saturday, when he will face Djokovic, who has dropped a total of 10 games through two matches so far after overwhelming Ricardas Berankis 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 — and is someone Galan has spotted in the locker room but never spoken to.
It’s the sort of David vs. Goliath matchup that happens often in tennis but is in particular abundance this year in Paris.
Galan is one of nine men ranked outside the top 100 into the third round, equaling the most at any Grand Slam tournament in more than a quarter-century (Wimbledon in 1994); the last time there were as many as nine at Roland Garros was 1985.
There were some unfair-on-paper matchups established Thursday by the women, too.
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who is seeded fourth, will face 105th-ranked qualifier Irina Bara. Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova next meets 100th-ranked Canadian teen Leylah Fernandez. Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champ, plays 87th-ranked Paula Badosa, who arrived in Paris with a 1-5 Grand Slam record.
“I have a very complex game. I can do many things on court,” said Bara, who is making her Grand Slam debut, “and I hope I will bother her with that.”
Maybe all of the success for those who haven’t done it before is due to this being as unusual a French Open as there’s ever been: shifted from May-June to September-October because of the coronavirus pandemic; from its position deep in the European clay-court circuit to two weeks after the hard-court U.S. Open’s conclusion; played amid autumn’s cold temperatures and rain, although the sun and blue sky made appearances Thursday; just 1,000 spectators allowed on-site each day.
Whatever the case, it’s instructive to remember that occasionally, of course, the stone finds its mark.