After the Rocket comes the Storm in Paris

·3-min read

It's been 52 years since a left-handed tennis player from the Queensland beef town of Rockhampton last rocked up at the French Open, but Paris is about to embrace another.

Back then it was Rod 'Rocket' Laver, now it's Storm Sanders.

The idea that her name can be linked with the guy who has a claim to being the sport's greatest clearly tickles Sanders, who's quite in awe of her town's most famous son.

"It's very special. I mean Rod Laver is an absolute legend. Also I'm left-handed, so it's pretty crazy!" Sanders, who's battled through qualifying to reach her first grand slam outside Australia, tells AAP.

Laver won the French Open for a second time in his last appearance there back in 1969, but the 26-year-old Sanders knows she's a long shot to win just one match as she's drawn the tough 14th seed Elise Mertens on Monday.

"But I'll give it a red hot go," she beams.

Laver would be proud - and the 82-year-old icon may well be tuning in.

"Good luck to everyone competing at Roland Garros over the next two weeks," he tweeted from his California home on Sunday.

"The memories of springtime in Paris come flooding back and while I can't be there this year, I will be taking a front row seat at home!"

Laver, naturally, is one of Sanders' heroes.

"I've met him a few times at Australian Opens but when he's around, it's hard not to get starstruck," she says.

"You kind of don't know what to say to him. My mind just goes. Actually, I don't think he even knows I'm from Rockhampton. I don't think I told him because I didn't really know what to say!

"But now I'm super-proud to be representing Australia and Rockhampton, this country town kind of in the middle of nowhere."

Sanders has been a bit of a rocket herself this year, shooting up from world No. 282 at the start of the year to a current career-high 161.

Why the huge breakthrough? "The biggest thing is I've been able to stay healthy," she says.

"Over my career, I've always had problems with injuries - it's always been stop-start, stop-start so never really had a consistent swing of playing a lot of matches," she says.

"Also it's just believing in myself, backing my game and going out there and enjoying it, playing my game."

She welcomes her demanding opener with six-time WTA title winner Mertens.

"I'm happy. I want play these top players. I want to give myself the best chance and challenge myself. That's the reason I play tennis.

"I want to compete against the best and see how far I can go. So I'm super excited. I'm the underdog, I have absolutely nothing to lose - and it's an advantage that I don't think she'll have seen me play much."

She'll know the name, though. Sanders' folks gave her the distinctive name because they loved the character of Storm Courtney in Wilbur Smith's Courtney novels.

"Funny thing is, though, that my fiance Loughlin's last name is Hunter, so when I'm married - it's due to be some time next year - my name is going to be Storm Hunter," grins Sanders.

"That'll be interesting!"

Storm Hunter? Even Rocket Laver couldn't boast the best name in tennis.

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