As Varvara Gracheva stood on Court Suzanne-Lenglen after her 7-5, 6-3 defeat of Irina-Camelia Begu, processing her achievement in reaching the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time, the stands broke out into a spontaneous rendition of “La Marseillaise.”

Just over a year ago, Gracheva had still been learning the words to the French national anthem. She was coming to the end of the three-year process of gaining citizenship, and she described the rousing melody of “La Marseillaise” as a “motivating anthem.” On Saturday, she got to hear it sung for her at Roland Garros as the last Frenchwoman standing in the draw. Her practise paid off: grinning ear to ear, Gracheva joined in with every word, and couldn’t stop smiling even when it had concluded.

“I will remember that moment until the end of my life,” Gracheva told press afterwards. “I couldn’t believe what a wonderful atmosphere it was.”

It’s all the more special because this week has been the first time Gracheva has experienced that atmosphere. The Moscow-born 23-year-old was naturalized as a French citizen last year, and began playing under the French flag in June; this is her first Roland Garros as a Frenchwoman. Having trained in Cannes since 2016, she made the decision to obtain French nationality in 2020 in order to have a “stable base.”

This breakthrough run has come of a surprise even to Gracheva herself. The World No.88 — who upset No.6 seed Maria Sakkari in the first round — had been 0-5 in her previous Grand Slam third-round appearances, and had endured a seven-match losing streak between January and March this year.

“If someone were to tell me that early on I would be smiling at 5-4, I wouldn’t believe you,” she said. “At the beginning of this year it was so hard. I was very frustrated about myself and about my game.

“When I was coming back, I decided to do things a bit more different, and good in a way. I met some people. I have now two good friends and one person that loves me. They really help me to appreciate the moment and to have a pleasure from the moment. So this is why I smile. I smile for them.”


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