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Haddad Maia: Reigniting Brazilian dreams at Roland Garros

  • Matt Trollope

Beatriz Haddad Maia’s historic run at Roland Garros continues. 

The 27-year-old recovered from a deficit, again, to upstage Ons Jabeur on Wednesday, advancing to her first Grand Slam semifinal and setting records in the process.

Haddad Maia has dropped the first set in her past three wins, and has been extended to three sets in all but one of her matches this fortnight. She has spent almost 13 hours on court to get here.

She is the first Brazilian to go this deep in Paris since Gustavo Kuerten in 2001, the year he won the last of his three Roland Garros titles.

More notably, no Brazilian woman has gone this far at a Grand Slam tournament in 55 years, since Maria Bueno reached the same stage of the 1968 US Open.

According to former Brazilian pro Andre Sa, Haddad Maia’s performance comes as no surprise. He believed she had the game to beat anybody and become a top-10 player; the latter is expected to be confirmed when next week’s rankings are released.

He told that her profile in Brazil is rapidly expanding, and thinks she has the potential to positively influence future generations.

"It's massive,” said Sa, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in 2002. 

“I just saw now she was on the front page of the biggest newspaper in Brazil. A huge photo. 

“It's a reference that the kids need. It's the same thing that when Guga (Kuerten) was playing well here... It makes a big difference to have someone having those kind of results, because it makes you believe you can as well.

“Now the same thing; all kinds of little girls are definitely going to start playing in Brazil, seeing what she's doing here and what she's accomplished. 

"Not only that, but she's a great person. Very easy going, accessible. She's really nice. The family's nice. She knows her role as a role model and as an athlete, so she's always available to the kids, she's always being nice to fans. 

“She's a complete package.”

A special talent

Sa met Haddad Maia when she was a young teenager and attended an academy – owned by Kuerten’s then-coach Larri Passos – where he and Kuerten trained.

The academy, near Kuerten’s home-town of Florianopolis in the south of Brazil, was where Sa would do his pre-seasons each December.

“She really stood out,” Sa recalled of Haddad Maia.

“She was already practising with the pros, the women's pros. And she was really tall; she was a big girl and very strong. 

“You could tell she had a different talent from everybody else.”

Beatriz Haddad Maia appeared in disbelief as she completed a 3-6 7-6(5) 6-1 win over Ons Jabeur to reach the Roland Garros semifinals. (Getty Images)

That talent truly began to shine through during Haddad Maia’s breakout 2022 season.

The left-hander, ranked as low as 88th in January, went on to crack the top 15 after winning more than 50 matches.

READ MORE: The rise of Beatriz Haddad Maia 

Her biggest successes included winning her first two WTA titles – at back-to-back grass-court events in Nottingham and Birmingham – as well as reaching the WTA 1000 final in Toronto, a week during which she stunned world No.1 Iga Swiatek.

Until this fortnight, however, the world No.12 had never gone beyond the second round at a major.

Incredibly, she will now face Swiatek again, this time for a shot at her first Grand Slam final.

You can be sure a lot more Brazilians will be tuning in as she competes on one of the game’s biggest stages.

"I think (until now) her profile was big, but in the tennis world. Not for people outside of tennis. I think for that to happen, you need to do well in the big tournaments, especially at the Slams,” Sa observed. 

“She was going through a phase I guess every player goes through; she went up in the rankings, she made the finals of a WTA 1000, she won many tournaments. All of a sudden she's top 20 in the world, seeded player. Expectations are different. And she needed some time, just to deal with that and learn how to play as a favourite. 

“She did it well, and now with this big breakthrough at the French, she's going to be a completely different player moving forward.

“Now, learning to play like this, getting that monkey off her back. (Knowing) 'I played well at a Slam, I made second week, I won a big match in the second week of a Grand Slam'. 

“The future is bright.”

Brazilian support

Haddad Maia’s performances have brought a special energy to the tournament, with several Brazilian flags dotted throughout the stands as she has played, and progressed.

In her near-four-hour win over Sara Sorribes Tormo in the fourth round, a group of Brazilian fans, dressed in Kuerten’s Roland Garros outfit from his victorious 1997 campaign, cheered her on.

Sa knows, from his run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals 21 years ago, that Grand Slam success resonates in Brazil.

But it’s especially so when that success comes at Roland Garros – just like it has for Haddad Maia.

“I think our connection in South America, it's more with Roland Garros, because everyone grows up on clay courts. Every tennis academy, every club, everything is clay courts,” he explained. 

“Most of the time, the best South American results are at Roland Garros. So that's the tournament when everyone knows about it, everyone is watching. 

“And then for Brazil, there's that little extra ‘flavour’ that Guga won here three times. So it became every little kid's dream to win Roland Garros, like Guga did. 

“It's a different connection, for sure.”