© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Daniel Elahi Galan will play Novak Djokovic in the third round at Roland Garros.

Hold The Meat... Djokovic-Galan Battle Is Au Naturel

Colombian reflects on his success at Roland Garros

Daniel Elahi Galan lost in straight sets last Friday in the final round of Roland Garros qualifying. But the Colombian lucky loser has certainly made the most of his “luck” in Paris, and now he has the biggest opportunity of his career. On Saturday, he faces World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the third round.

“[I’m] really, really excited. Just looking forward really to playing him and playing on centre court,” Galan said. “I have never practised with him. Just sometimes see him in the locker room and that’s it. I have never even practised with a Top 10 [player].”

The last Colombian who reached the third round at Roland Garros was Santiago Giraldo in 2012. While Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah have won multiple Grand Slam doubles titles and are the top seeds in Paris, Galan and Giraldo are the only Colombians inside the Top 400 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.

This dream run might seem sudden for the 2019 Houston semi-finalist, but Galan has worked his whole life to get to this point. Tennis runs in his blood.

"My dad Santos is a tennis coach. At first, he coached my oldest brother and now we travel together,” Galan said. “Family is very important to me. My mom stayed home and raised all of us. I am the youngest of four children - three brothers and one sister.”

Colombia is more well-known for cyclists like Nairo Quintana — a former Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana champion — and Rigoberto Uran, who finished second at the Tour de France. Galan enjoys cycling, too.

"I try to do it when I'm at home, but I don't get the chance very often,” Galan said. “It's not the best thing for a tennis player, because if you fall from the bicycle, it's not a good thing."

Galan’s parents, Santos and Doris, became vegetarians in their late 20s, believing it was a healthier lifestyle. They raised all four of their children that way. Galan has never tried meat, fish, chicken or eggs.

"For me, it's a big thing and it's difficult when you're on the road around the world. It's tough when you're travelling in some countries. Normally, I'll try to eat as many grains, beans and chickpeas as possible. Those are rich in protein,” Galan said. “Some places they don't understand you and they don't know what a vegetarian is. In the U.S. you have many options, but in a place like Turkey we ate pasta all week because they had no other options. Sometimes it can be very tough."

In Paris, granola, oatmeal, soy milk and fruits have been on Galan’s breakfast menu. For lunch, he has enjoyed salad and pasta with mushrooms, tofu and pesto. The Bogota resident has eaten rice and grains for dinner.

Galan’s next opponent, Djokovic, famously went gluten-free. The Serbian has won 81 more tour-level titles than Galan, but that doesn't bother the 2018 San Benedetto Challenger champion.

“I’m kind of quiet, but I’m really, really, really happy,” Galan said. “I’m also focussed on keeping going. I think I just have to focus on my game and that’s it. I know I play Djokovic, but in all matches any player you play, you have to do your game, just try to win and give it all you have. That’s it. At the end of the day, it’s just another match.”

Galan arrived at the clay-court major with four wins at ATP Tour events and none at Grand Slams. But he has steadily built confidence over the past year.

At last November’s Davis Cup Finals in Madrid, Galan took a set off then-World No. 11 David Goffin on a hard court, which is not his preferred surface.

“He was the toughest guy I have ever played and I was really, really nervous because it was Goffin, a guy you see on TV all the time. I just went on the court and I was expecting him to just play unbelievable or maybe he would beat me so easily,” Galan said. “But at the end of the day they are human. They also make mistake... They are trying the best they can. At the end of the day, we are all players.”

Galan reached an ATP Challenger Tour final this February in Newport Beach, also on hard courts. But the COVID-19 pandemic halted his progress. The 24-year-old played two matches before Roland Garros qualifying and lost both.

“During the quarantine I was not able to practise that much. I started practising again in July, but I was just trying to get again in that rhythm that I was playing with before, that confidence,” Galan said. “It was really not easy because when I got to Europe the first matches were really difficult. I just felt weird. Here I felt the same.”

Galan hasn't shown it since getting into the main draw, beating Cameron Norrie in five sets and cruising past two-time major quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren in straight sets. Now he faces his greatest challenge yet: Djokovic.

“I have to take this match like all matches,” Galan said. “Just go out, do my game and that’s it. There is no other way.”

- Reporting contributed by Josh Meiseles