WTA debutantes have made an indelible impression over the last two stagings of the BNP Paribas Open, with Bianca Andreescu and Paula Badosa each storming to the title in their first main draw appearances in 2019 and 2021, respectively. This year in the California desert, Denmark’s Clara Tauson, a fast-rising 19-year-old with a powerful yet nuanced game, has the potential to continue the tradition.
Whether she follows in Andreescu and Badosa’s footsteps or not, she has made it clear over the last 52 weeks that she is already a force to be reckoned with on the WTA Tour. Tauson, 6’0” tall and blessed with easy power off of both wings, entered 2021 outside of the top-150 but parlayed titles at Lyon and Luxembourg all the way to her career-high ranking of 33 in the world. She enters Indian Wells at No.40 (seeded 29), burdened by the new set of expectations that come with her recent success.
Jeunehomme and Tauson – an Excellent Fit
Her coach, Olivier Jeunehomme, is comfortable with this new reality, and intent on continuing the development of the Dane’s game, even if there are new standards to be kept.
“I prefer to go steady, but it’s a good problem to have,” he says of Tauson’s recent rise up the rankings. “From the first time I saw Clara I really thought that she had big potential, so I expected that she will move forward, but I didn’t know exactly at which speed.”
Tauson’s power is front and center, but what makes her unique is her desire to be a well-rounded tactician, one capable of adapting her game to the challenges at hand. Jeunehomme, who formerly was a part of Justine Henin’s team and continues to be associated with the legend’s academy in Belgium, where Tauson trains, talked to us about the excitement that comes with the Dane’s burgeoning skill.
“It’s a very interesting challenge, and this is why I decided to enter in this project,” he says. “First of all because I have the support of the parents and from Clara, to take the time to develop her into a complete player. It was very important in the beginning of our collaboration, we took the time to have a discussion about that, because when I saw her potential, I said ‘Okay, what is the approach, what is the project?’”
There is plenty of synergy between coach and player. Tauson recently passed on a chance to defend her title points at Lyon last week, instead deciding to take an extra week of training in California, to prepare for her debut in the California desert.
“Right now the priority is there: to try to compete with the best players and see what she can do and what she needs to improve to be at that level – that’s the goal now,” says Jeunehomme.
The Presence of a Legend – Henin’s Door is Open for Tauson
Tauson came to the Justine Henin Academy two years ago, and was excited to pair with Jeunehomme when she got there.
“I needed something extra and by far Olivier is very much extra when it gets to learning,” Tauson said last season. “I’m still a young player, so he knows that I’m young and he knows what I need to improve.”
Though she isn’t actively coaching, Jeunehomme says that Henin, the 2004 champion at Indian Wells and a seven-time major champion overall, is always available to help Tauson continue her progression.
“Right now it’s two points,” Jeunehomme says. “We have some meetings that I fixed; then Clara knows that if she wants to speak with Justine it’s always open – she can call her, or when we are at the Academy training she can speak with her as well – she knows that the door is open for her.”
Hall of Famer Henin was known for mastering a versatile, diverse brand of tennis as a player. She was quick to close at the net and use angles to open up the court and expose her opponents. In the legendary Belgian, Tauson has the perfect template to emulate.
“I have been fortunate enough to have Clara train at my Academy for the past two years,” Henin told the tournament via email. “She is a very complete player with a very strong work ethic. I am convinced that she has the potential to become a world class player.”
Tauson’s team also looks to the top of the WTA rankings for inspiration. The teen had the chance to face world No.1 Ash Barty at last year’s US Open, in the second round. Though she lost, 6-1, 7-5, Jeunehomme says the experience was formative.
“I used this opportunity to have a long discussion after the match – and before the match as well – to learn something,” the Belgian says. “Because I think that Barty is a great example now about variation, tactics – everything. When a young player has the chance to have the good example, I of course used that.”
At 19, Tauson has a bright future ahead of her. And a great opportunity to make a big splash this week in the Coachella Valley. Whether she steals the show this week or not, there is an abundance of confidence that the longer-term plan is in place for Tauson.
“When you want to develop a complete player with the capacity to defend, to attack, to change the rhythm with slice, trajectory, using the topspin, going to the net – it takes more time than a player who always plays the same,” Jeunehomme explains, concluding: “I have the chance to coach a player who accepts to try but understands also that when you try you are going to fail.
“That’s when you learn – you try, you fail, you learn from the mistakes and you make it better after. Not so many players want to enter in this process but I have the chance to have a player who accepts that, so that’s a big opportunity.”