Most tennis fans did not know Leolia Jeanjean’s name before Roland-Garros. Even many of his peers didn’t know much about his participation in the event. After all, the world No. 227 had never played in the main draw of a tour-level event, let alone a major tournament, and had never faced anyone ranked in the top 50.
But everything changed this week. And no one will forget his name anytime soon.
Jeanjean, 26, a literal and figurative wild card at Roland Garros, beat No. 45 Nuria Parrizas Diaz in the first round. She then upset a stunned No. 8 seed and former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the second round 6-2, 6-2 in front of a delighted crowd on the Simonne-Mathieu court on Thursday. It was undoubtedly the biggest win of his career, and just the final leg of one of the tour’s most unorthodox trips.
Jeanjean was once a promising young French junior player, but her professional dreams were derailed due to a serious knee injury. After being sidelined from the sport for a while, she decided to play collegiate in the United States. She played her first season at Baylor before transferring to Arkansas, but then ended up playing at Lynn, a Division II school in Boca Raton, Florida.
While former NCAA players have certainly found success on tour in recent years, including Jennifer Brady (UCLA), Danielle Collins (Virginia) and Cameron Norrie (TCU), the path from college to pro remains unusual. And make the jump from a Division II program? Well, let’s just say it’s almost unheard of.
But for Jeanjean, it was her time at Lynn that made her realize she wasn’t done with her professional tennis dreams yet. In her senior year, she went undefeated in singles (21-0) and doubles (29-0) and was named ITA Senior Player of the Year as well as ITA Female Athlete of the Year. Sunshine State Conference.
“After [that season]I thought maybe I should try and go and play some ITFs [tournaments]which went really well too, because, you know, I went to the semi-finals and everything,” Jeanjean said after her win over Pliskova, maybe it’ll work out.”
Jeanjean is expected to move up to No. 148 with the win. If she beat third-round opponent Irina-Camelia Begu on Saturday, she’d enter the top 120. But no matter what happens from here, she’s already joined a pretty exclusive club of athletes from all sports. who made DII’s leap to big league success. Here is a small sampling of other athletes who have done just that in recent years.
A two-time Super Bowl champion (responsible for this interception) and Pro Bowler, it’s hard to believe Butler didn’t have an interest in DI, but he played at Hinds Community College (Raymond, Mississippi) before eventually ending up in West Alabama. The future New England Patriots cornerback played two seasons for the school, earning all-conference first-team honors both years, and led the conference in passes defended and passes broken at the during his senior campaign.
Prior to winning a world championship with the USA 4×400 team in 2017 or making the 2020 Olympic team by beating Allyson Felix at the Olympic trials last June, Hayes competed for Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. North. While at school, she became the first woman in DII history to win three consecutive NCAA outdoor 400-meter titles. During her senior season, she added the 200-meter title to her collection.
The two-time US Open champion (1993 and 1998) and eight-time PGA Tour winner didn’t exactly get his start as a golf powerhouse. Instead, he opted to play for Florida Southern and, alongside fellow future-PGA pro Rocco Mediate, helped the school win an NCAA Division II tag team title in 1985. The season next, after the departure of Mediate, Janzen elevated the team to another championship. and won the individual title. He now plays on the senior circuit and won his last title at the 2021 SAS Championship in October.
Prior to becoming a four-time MLB All-Star and World Series champion, Boston Red Sox slugger Martinez played collegiately at Nova Southeastern (alongside fellow 2018 All-Star and current St. Louis Miles Mikolas). Martinez set the then-program record with 32 home runs in his final season with the team.
The UFC welterweight champion and former ‘Ultimate Fighter’ winner helped the University of Nebraska at Kearney capture the NCAA Division II National Wrestling Team title in 2008 and won the individual national title at 174 pounds in 2010. He turned to mixed martial arts after failing to qualify for the 2012 US Olympic tryouts, and it seems to have worked out pretty well for him.
A bronze medalist member of the Canadian softball team at the 2020 Olympics, Wideman played at the University of California, Pennsylvania. During her senior season, she led the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference with a .454 batting average, 49 runs scored and .535 on-base percentage and was named Division II Catcher of the Year.
The all-time leading scorer in MLS had Division I offers for athletics but was largely under the radar for soccer. Ultimately, he helped lead Chico State to the Division II National Championship Game. He went on to have one of the most successful careers in MLS history and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2012. He retired in November.