On June 5, 1983, Yannick Noah won Roland-Garros. Forty years later, no Frenchman has succeeded him. The former tennis champion, who has become a singing star, was back at the Central de Roland-Garros last weekend to celebrate his only coronation, this time with a microphone in hand.
Walking barefoot on the famous red clay of the Philippe-Chatrier court, he interpreted a dozen songs, joined on stage by his opponent from 40 years ago. years, Mats Wilander. Asked about the lack of success of French players in the Porte d’Auteuil tournament since the 1980s, Yannick Noah was amused: “Because I no longer train !”
The player, who led France to victory in the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup, then gave advice to young French people who hope to break through : packing their bags and going abroad.
“You have to go and feed yourself elsewhere because we are used to losing at all levels,” he explained at a press conference. “All the coaches have lost. Not one has won ! So you’re surrounded by people who have all lost.”
“As if Real Madrid hadn’t won anything”
Looking abroad is precisely what the French Tennis Federation (FFT) did by calling on the Croatian Ivan Ljubicic, ex-coach of Roger Federer who guided the Swiss to three new Grand Slam titles. .
Former world number three Ivan Ljubicic has been named head of the Ambition mission 2024 which aims to restore momentum to French tennis and train a new generation of champions. When he took office in December, the towering Croatian said he was baffled by the lack of success in tennis in France.
“French tennis […] is the one that makes those who are not French the most curious,” he said. in the newspaper L’Équipe. “It’s as if Real Madrid haven’t won anything for a long time.”
For his part, the Swiss Stan Wawrinka, winner of Roland-Garros in 2015, made sharper remarks at a tournament in Marseille earlier this year, saying it was “sad” not to see better players in a country that has “a Grand Slam and plenty of resources to invest in the future of tennis” .
Self-flagellation is recurrent at Roland-Garros, especially during anniversary years. In 2018, as the organizers celebrated the 30 years since the last participation of a Frenchman – Henri Leconte – in the final, he castigated the lack of dedication and mental strength of the players.
“They don’t train as much on clay as they used to,” said Henri Leconte at Reuters. “They’re scared to play Roland-Garros. They always come with an excuse, saying ‘Oh, I have pain in my back or my elbow.'”
If this judgment is severe, it remains today shared by certain supporters met at Roland-Garros, who underline the inability of French players to meet expectations. “The French have great courts and great players, but at this level of tennis, it’s mental strength that makes the difference,” says Marcus, a regular at tennis tournaments from Denmark. The 40-year-old draws a parallel to former world number one Andy Murray, who ended a decades-long wait for a men’s Grand Slam title “despite even greater pressure at Wimbledon”.
Andy Murray, who has lost eight of his eleven Grand Slam finals, all to Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer, would certainly have been more successful if he hadn’t lived in the era of the “Big Three” (with Rafael Nadal ). On the antenna of RMC, Marion Bartoli, the last French player to win a major tournament in 2013, also pointed to the “psychological challenge” of winning at home : “What Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gaël Monfils lacked [pour remporter Roland-Garros, NDLR], is that it was necessary to beat very great players in a consecutive way. They managed to do the feat once, even twice, and then afterwards, there is a fatigue that sets in. There’s pressure rising […]. And of course, winning at home is a psychological challenge.”
Read also “How sad !” : Roland-Garros opens without its legend Rafael Nadal
Quantity at the expense of quality
Already in 2018, Henri Leconte judged that the FFT had its share of responsibility in choosing “quantity at the expense of quality”, by encouraging an abundance of young talent instead of focusing on the few most promising players.
During the 20 recent years, many French players have appeared in the top 100 of the ATP ranking. This situation explains why the French, as a team, have often done well in the Davis Cup. However, over the same period, no player has come close to winning a Grand Slam tournament. Only Arnaud Clément (at the Australian Open in 2001) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (at the same place in 2008) have reached a final in the XXIe century.
Proponents of the French model, however, point out that individual Grand Slam titles are not the only way to measure success. France has the second highest number of licensees in Europe, behind Germany, and its clubs are the envy of most European countries.
Since 2000, French women’s tennis has gradually risen from the ashes with four Grand Slam titles in singles : Mary Pierce at Roland Garros in 2000, Amélie Mauresmo at the Australian Open and at Wimbledon in 2006 and Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon in 2013.
Once again, the country’s hopes rest largely on one woman, world number five Caroline Garcia, who beat China’s Xiyu Wang in straight sets (7-6, 4-6, 6-4), six months after his triumph at the WTA Masters in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Don’t forget the girls !”, declared Yannick Noah after his concert on Saturday at the Central de Roland-Garros. “Women have won victories. We should talk about that too.”
The dream of a young talent
Among the new “Four Musketeers” who have dominated men’s tennis over the past two decades, two of them have recently retired, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon. The other two, Gaël Monfils and Richard Gasquet, are both 36 years and are not among the top 50 worldwide.
The transition to a new generation has not been without a hitch. Ugo Humbert, 24, is currently the best French player, at the 40e place, but his progress has stalled since breaking into the top 30 in 2021. The only other player in the top 50 is Adrien Mannarino, 34 ans.
A ranking that explains why no Frenchman is currently seeded in singles at Roland-Garros, for the second consecutive year. As in the last editions, there could be no French in the second week of the Parisian tournament.
But with a promising new generation of players under 20 years, there is reason to hope. Since the beginning of the year, eight French players have won a Challenger Tour tournament, the springboard to the senior ATP circuit. That’s more than any other country.
The prize goes to Luca Van Assche and Arthur Fils. The first, which celebrated its 19 years earlier this month, has already won two such tournaments this year. The second, who is only 18 years, made his ATP debut by winning the Lyon Open a few days before his first match at Roland Garros.
However, they are not newcomers to Roland-Garros. In 2021, Luca Van Assche won the junior title at Porte d’Auteuil by beating his friend… Arthur Fils in the final. For their first steps in the big leagues on Monday, they had opposite fates : the first won his match, not the second.
Arthur Fils was eliminated by the Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, seeded n° 29, in four sets (1-6, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6), while Luca Van Assche won an impressive victory in three sets (6-1, 6-1, 6-4) against the Italian Marco Cecchinato, semi-finalist in 2018, carried by a delirious public.
“With the help of the public, it’s always much easier for us, the French, to play here, it’s always a huge strength, we are pushed from start to finish”, rejoiced Luca Van Assche after the game. He will again count on the public to try to avenge his friend Arthur Fils by facing the winner of the match, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, on Wednesday.
Among the 12 French players engaged on Tuesday, only Diane Parry, Océane Dodin and Arthur Rinderknech have so far overcome the obstacle of the first round. Not Fiona Ferro, Hugo Gaston, Selena Janicijevic, nor Giovanni Mpetschi-Perricard.
This article was adapted from English by Barbara Gabel. The original can be found here.
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