Lone stars flying the flag

 - Kate Battersby

We take a look at some of the players flying the flag solo for their countries this fortnight.

Casper Ruud poses with a fan after winning his second-round qualifying match at Roland-Garros 2018.© Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Glimpsing their nation’s flag waving among the crowd is always a joyful sight for any player – but it is considerably more likely for some contenders than for others.

In the men’s draw 20 players are the sole representatives of their nation, while just seven women can be certain they will not be drawn to face any compatriot.

In the two draws combined, 11 men and five women have no fellow citizens at all among the 256 competitors. That latter list includes such familiar faces as Austria’s Dominic Thiem and Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki. Here’s a look at some of the others.

Casper Ruud, Norway

Currently at a career-high No.63, young Ruud is actually not even the highest-ever ranked member of his own family. His father and coach, Christian, reached No.39 in 1995 and remains the highest-ranked Norwegian in history. But 20-year-old Casper has already climbed 48 places this year and is surely on course for the year-end Next Gen finals.

In 2018 he not only battled through qualifying to the main draws in Australia, Roland-Garros and the US, but reached the second round at the first two.

Casper Ruud©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Known for his forehand as much as for his work ethic, he reached the final at the US Clay Court Championships in Houston last month and came through qualifying to make the last 16 in Rome. He trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy, which sometimes provides him the opportunity to practice with the King of Clay himself.

Roland-Garros 2019 is his first Grand Slam where he is in the main draw by right. His first-round opponent is the 2014 semi-finalist here Ernests Gulbis.

Ruud is a useful golfer, even listing a set of clubs among the items he would take to a desert island. “Maybe I should have chosen that,” he smiles. “I wouldn’t have to run as much as I do on a tennis court.”

Radu Albot, Moldova

When Albot was born in November 1989, Moldova was still part of the Soviet Union. With the dissolution of the USSR two years later, Moldova became independent. Albot began playing on a local wooden indoor court at age 6.

Now 29, he has been on the Tour for a decade and in 2015 became the first Moldovan man or woman to pierce the top 100. By emerging top of the heap in Delray Beach this year, he notched another first as the only Moldovan ever to win an ATP title.

He arrives at Roland-Garros on a further high, in the knowledge that reaching the semi-finals on Geneva’s clay this week will see him break into the top 40 come Monday.

Nicknamed “Machine” by other players, his most heartfelt ambition is to create a national tennis legacy. “I don’t want to finish my career and see that tennis is dead in my country,” he told the New York Times. “I want to walk into every tournament and see the Moldovan flag flying.”

Hugo Dellien, Bolivia

Last July, Dellien became the first man from his nation to crack the top 100 in 34 years, and only the second of all time (after Mario Martinez).

In a country where sporting icons are thin on the ground, 25-year-old Dellien – nicknamed “Pantera” (panther) – racked up a clutch of Challenger titles in 2018, and spoke of his thrill at playing the qualifiers at Roland-Garros, even though he did not win through.

Hugo Dellien Madrid Open 2019©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

But at Roland-Garros 2019 he has climbed the ladder, not only to make his first Grand Slam main draw but also doing it by right. If that was insufficient for the feel-good factor, he arrives here having pushed Alexander Zverev to three sets in Geneva this week, prompting the impressed world No.5 to comment: “He’s a great player. I think he’s going to finish the year much, much higher than he is now.”

Dellien will be relishing the prospect of facing India’s world No.86 Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the first round.

Malek Jaziri and Ons Jabeur, Tunisia

At least as important as their mutual lone representation of their nation in the men’s and women’s draws, Jaziri and Jabeur are the only two Arabs in the top 200.

Now 24, Jabeur became the first woman from Tunisia, and the Arab world, to reach a WTA final at last October’s Kremlin Cup in Moscow, rising to No.60 as a result and becoming the highest-ranked Arab woman in history. She is also the first Arab woman to make the third round at a Grand Slam, as a lucky loser here at Roland-Garros in 2017, but has a tough first round this time against the in-form No.31 seed Petra Martic.

Jabeur won the Roland-Garros junior title in 2011 and will be looking to rely on her positive memories from Paris when she tackles Martic on Sunday.

Jaziri’s path to the top 50 has been a long one – he touched his career-high of No.42 last July at the age of 34. A self-described late bloomer, there was simply no road map for him to follow as a young Tunisian player, and he was 28 before he punctured the top 100. His debut ATP final came only last year, in Istanbul, and his season included top 10 wins over Grigor Dimitrov, Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev.

He will hope to equal his best-ever Roland-Garros by defeating his first round opponent, qualifier Oscar Otte.

Malek Jaziri Roland Garros 2018©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT