There will not always be a Hugo Gaston to save the homeland in danger. Last fall, the native of Toulouse had dreamed the rare spectators of Roland-Garros, replaying David against Goliath in his own way to be the only Frenchman to join the knockout stages of the men’s singles. The tree that hid the forest of a tricolor tennis court in great difficulty. Months have passed and nothing has changed. Worse, from a relatively exceptional pessimism, the mood has now shifted to logical defeatism because it is based on the latest results of our representatives.
In October, the French salute had also (and above all) come from these ladies: Fiona Ferro and Caroline Garcia had also joined the second week near the Porte d’Auteuil. But since then, they haven’t transformed the essay so to speak. So much so that in April (and again this week), the WTA ranking no longer displayed a Blue in the World Top 50, a sad first for almost 35 years (September 1986). In Strasbourg this week, they were six engaged in the first round and none managed to reach the quarters.
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Caroline Garcia in Rome in 2021
For Garcia and Mladenovic, that the Top 10 seems far …
“I think that with girls, each situation is special. We were not mistaken about the potential of Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic since they were both in the Top 10 (the first was even world number 4 in October 2018, Editor’s note). We do not arrive there by chance, even two weeks, it does not matter: there is a level of play which allows it. But tennis is a constant challenge. If things don’t change, the backlash is violent and I think people don’t quite realize it. There are the strengths of other players, the choices of coaches and lots of little factors that make the difference. And once the doubt sets in, it’s difficult, especially when we are talking about two players whose tennis is at risk.“, observe Camille Pin.
Her habits, Garcia upset them by choosing at the age of 27 to separate from her father Louis-Paul, her lifelong coach, attaching the services of Gabi Urpi with whom she had already worked for a few months at the Rafa Nadal academy of Mallorca. A psychological shock and a strong choice whose positive or negative repercussions are still uncertain, but which could revive his career. Kristina Mladenovic, for her part, had started a collaboration with the German Sascha Bajin, former coach of Naomi Osaka, in 2019 which the latter had abruptly ended despite encouraging results.
Ferro in the dark, Burel promising but still green
Fiona Ferro, who was expected to take over from her elders, has experienced repeated physical problems. She has not been seen on a competitive court since her retirement in Istanbul more than a month ago. For the rest, there is Clara Burel who, at 19, had also done wonders with a third round during the 2020 edition of Roland-Garros. Brilliant on the secondary circuit – she recently won the ITF Saint-Gaudens – the 146th player in the world could still create a good surprise.
Fiona Ferro during her first round match against Heather Watson at Roland-Garros 2020
Credit: Getty Images
“I believe in Clara a lot, she has something different about her racquet. She has an eye, she can do everything and she is a huge fighter. All her qualities mean that she wins a lot of matches and that I see her entering the 50 best players in the world in a short time. Since she was 14, she has really tasted injury level. If she can do several full seasons in a row, that’s gonna be something“, observes our consultant. But she still has some way to go and Burel cannot be the hoped-for locomotive in the short term.
But if French women’s tennis has often disappointed in recent years, the results of these men made up for it. This is no longer the case, which considerably darkens the picture. The current playing conditions, more or less well received by the players, can of course explain certain individual failures (Gaël Monfils and Benoît Paire for example), but the coronavirus is only a cyclical factor in a structural crisis. One thing is clear: the gradual collapse of those who have been called (despite themselves) the “new Musketeers” is not compensated for.
Among the men, no Blue in the Top 30 for the Race: the generational gap is confirmed
“There is a change of generation, a small hole. Gilles (Simon) and Jo-Wilfried (Tsonga) are 36, Richard (Gasquet) soon to be 35, and things are starting to be difficult. They’re amazingly motivated because they could have quit a while ago, but they love tennis. They want to choose how they will end up. Nothing should be expected of them. Lucas Pouille could aim for the Top 10 after his semi-final in Australia in 2019 (he was very briefly, Editor’s note), but he was injured a lot. It’s impossible to stay high if you’re not constant. The talent is there, but physical and mental consistency is paramount. They all play well in the Top 100. The average level is not high enough. They are able to play very well over a few weeks, but they have a hard time being consistent over time.“, analyzes Camille Pin.
Ugo Humbert in Madrid in 2021
Credit: Getty Images
And the results are ruthless. In Rome, none of the five Blues in the running managed to get through the 1st round, the end of a series of 145 Masters 1000 with at least one match won, a first since Hamburg in… 2004. At the Race (world ranking on the points recorded since January 1), Jérémy Chardy is the first Frenchman and is in 36th place. And the Pau won only three matches on clay before Roland-Garros. But the real disappointment of the start of the season has a name: Ugo Humbert.
There is no question here of overwhelming the Messin who knows a blow less well after a very promising end of the 2020 season. But his constant progress gave hope that he would quickly take up the torch of his elders. His current 60th place in the Race says it all about his difficulties, which are added to those of his compatriots. “His loss in five sets to Nick Kyrgios in the second round of the Australian Open may have affected him. When you are a young person who arrives, after this kind of match, you are told: ‘It’s great’, and he is not there anymore. This setback may have hurt him because he is no longer satisfied with just having a good game. He has changed status in relation to his expectations, to the media and to others. We must give him time “, Camille Pin analysis.
In the absence of a champion, regain density thanks to federal policy
Still, the quest for the savior, whether it be Humbert or a reborn Monfils at Roland Garros with the support of the public and renewed confidence, is symptomatic of the current situation of French tennis. The tank is no longer as impressive as it used to be. All countries are experiencing more or less good times. Does this mean that any federal policy would be futile in the face of this observation? In the Echange podcast, Guy Forget spoke on the subject, considering that a federation could not “create a champion” but generate density in the Top 100.
It is also the conviction of the new DTN of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), Nicolas Escudé, who had explained during his enthronement that he wanted “minimize generational gaps“, by broadening the recruitment base, but also by partially reviewing the teaching. For if the federation has been aware in recent years of the importance of work on the mind, other shortcomings may explain the current difficulties. For the 15th year in a row, no Frenchwoman has managed to get out of qualifying this week at Roland Garros: an observation that should challenge the current average level.
“When I trained young girls at INSEP a few years ago, they had excellent physical and ball-hitting qualities. But I felt like they didn’t have a play structure and that shocked me. At one point, the concept of playing crossover short to open up along the line, you have to learn it in a very small club. And maybe we forgot his tactical fundamentals at some point. We must question ourselves on the concrete: how to gain a point? “, concludes Camille Pin. Extensive program. While waiting for more prolific days at Roland Garros, it is better to prepare for the worst, even if it means being pleasantly surprised.
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