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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canadian Sharon Fichman earns direct entry into French Open main draw

Sharon Fichman's first memory of the French Open was watching Jennifer Capriati knock off Kim Clijsters to win the 2001 title.

Fichman was 10 years old at the time. She printed out a photo of a smiling Capriati holding the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen winner's trophy. She then cut out a photo of her own face and pasted it over Capriati's.

"That was really funny," Fichman said from Paris on Friday.

It was also the beginning of her love affair with Roland Garros that will reach new heights next week when the 23-year-old from Toronto plays in the tournament's main draw — the first time she's earned a direct entry into a Grand Slam main draw in her career.

"I knew after that (Capriati victory) that I wanted to win the French Open, that was the Grand Slam when I was that age, that I really wanted to win," Fichman said on a conference call.

"Ever since then, when I've played (here) as a junior and now as a pro, I just feel more comfortable every single year. I love it here, I love Paris, I love the tournament. I really enjoy going out and competing and playing good tennis and getting better, and winning matches. Just really good memories every time I'm here."

Fichman, ranked a career-high 77th, faces a tough first-round opponent in sixth-seeded Serb Jelena Jankovic.

Fichman is one of four Canadians who earned direct entry. Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., seeded No. 18, will open against Shahar Peer of Israel. On the men's side, eighth-seeded Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., will open against Australian wildcard Nick Krygios, and Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver takes on No. 60 Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia.

"It's very cool for me, . . . that this is going to be the first time I've been in the Grand Slam main draw playing here as a professional," Fichman said. "I worked really hard so I'm just happy that the hard work is paying off."

Fichman will also play doubles with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the Russian she partnered with to win the junior doubles title at the French Open in 2006.

"It's going to be fun, hopefully we can make another good memory," she said.

Fichman, who finished 2013 ranked 106th, is enjoying easily the best season of her career. She defeated Peer in the first round at Indian Wells, Calif., in March, before being eliminated by world No. 10 Sara Errani in the second round. She reached her first singles final of the season earlier this month at the $100,000 International Tennis Federation event in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. Her victory over Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky in the final was the biggest of her career.

Fichman credits her switch to coach Larry Jurovich in the summer of 2012 — and all the changes in her game and in training that came with it — for her improvement.

"I think it's a lot of things," she said. "I think mentally I've changed, I've definitely gotten stronger. Physically I've changed. . . and also my game has changed. We're working on different things than I'm used to. It's coming close to two years now (with Jurovich) and before that I was focusing on different things.

"So honestly I think it's a bit of everything. But the most important thing is I really believe in what I'm doing, and I believe in myself, so I think that's helping the most out of everything."

Fichman knows what she's up against with Jankovic. The Serbian star defeated the Canadian 6-4, 7-6 in the second round of last summer's Rogers Cup.

"I have a lot of respect for her, she's an accomplished player," she said "It was a close match (at the Rogers Cup), and I know I had some chances, especially in the second set. It's going to be a tough opponent but I also think that I'm playing well and I know that I did well last time, so I'm just going to focus on my game and I think if I continue to fight and I execute what we're working on, I have just as good a chance as any."

Bouchard, meanwhile, faces Peer for the fourth time in her career — Bouchard has won all three previous meetings. At last year's French Open, the 20-year-old was defeated by Maria Sharapova in the second round.

Raonic faces a rising star in Krygios. The 19-year-old Aussie was crowned champion of the International Junior Tennis Open in Repentigny, Que., in 2012.

Raonic is having a strong clay court season, highlighted by a semifinal appearance at the Rome Masters last week. He'll be looking to improve on his third-round showing in Paris last year where he fell to Kevin Anderson of South Africa.

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