Roland-Garros – French tennis in crisis: ‘The generation gap is bigger than in the 1970s’

There’s no point in worrying before hostilities begin. But it is better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is the most appropriate state of mind to precisely understand the situation of three-color tennis. An observation is worth more than a thousand developments: for the first time in the 21st century (and even since 1999), Roland-Garros does not count any French (neither among the ladies nor the men) among its top seeds in the single tables. After the nothingness from the 3rd round of the 2021 edition, it is therefore no time for blissful optimism.

At the beginning of the week, the sky got a little darker with Gaël Monfils’ package. A single creature is missing and everything is depopulated, Lamartine said. At the last Australian Open they were even two in the quarterfinals with Alizé Cornet. But the Parisian like de Niçoise, representatives of a generation at the end of their careers, were trees that hid the forest of very disturbing general results. Remember, no Blue (or Blue) made it to the second week in Grand Slam last year.

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On the ATP circuit, only one on Earth has been able to drop out of the game this spring, especially in Geneva (semi-final): Richard Gasquet and his 35 years (soon to be 36). †It is quite logical that Gasquet is experiencing a revival at the age of 35 if he has no physical problems: he was still among the 10 best in the world, in the semifinals of Wimbledon and the US Open. The problem is there should be some pushing it back“, our advisor Jean-Paul Loth clearly notes.

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A challenge similar to the re-founding of the early Open era

For the first time since 1971, there were no tricolor representatives in the table of the Masters 1000 in Rome. To find traces of such a crisis in French tennis, we must therefore go back to the famous 1970s, especially in their second half. At that time, the tree that hid the forest was called François Jauffret. Semifinalist at Roland in 1974, he was also the last survivor in the round of 16 in 1975 and 1976. Then, in 1977, the adventure had already ended a round earlier for Patrice Dominguez and a certain Yannick Noah.

Faced with the dawn of the Open era – that is, the permission given to professionals to participate in the biggest tournaments reserved for amateurs until now in 1968 – the French Tennis Federation (FFT) had completely overhauled its sports policy . Jean-Paul Loth, National Technical Director since 1977, was one of the great craftsmen of the then president of the FFT, Philippe Chatrier.

We wanted to give all its prestige back to Roland-Garros, make it a real Grand Slam tournament and take the Davis Cup and wins in the Majors. In the beginning we had almost no resources. And from 1977-1978, the Federation took part in the training of players. As a DTN I set up tennis studies, inaugurated training grants so that children could be trained permanently. We also created competition grants so that the efforts of clubs and leagues were completed by the Federation.he testifies.

Yannick Noah with Patrice Beust and Pascal Portes during a tournament in Miami in December 1977

Credit: Getty Images

A regular renewal of talents until the 2000s

It took a while before there was a vibration. Players such as current FFT president Gilles Moretton (8th at Roland in 1979), Dominique Bedel (3rd round in 1979) or even Pascal Portes (3rd round also in 1980) have struggled to take over from Pierre Darmon, Pierre Barthès, Patrick Proisy and François Jauffret. Then the long-awaited great champion arrived in the person of Yannick Noah.

Yannick finally won Roland in 1983 and I took the French team to the Davis Cup final against the United States in Grenoble. And then come Guy Forget and Henri Leconte. We trained players with our system until the years 2000-2005. There were always about ten or a dozen players in the 100, and with leaders at some point in the Top 10: Cédric Pioline, Sébastien Grosjean, Arnaud Clément then the Gasquets, Monfils, Tsonga and Simon‘ Lot remembers.

To date, French men’s tennis still produces a certain density. This week nine Blues are in the Top 100 with Quentin Halys being the very last to enter this elite thanks to his recent good results in Challengers. But if we take a closer look at the rankings, one thing is clear: there are only two left in the top 50 (Monfils 22nd and Ugo Humbert 45th) and there are no more in the Top 20.

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A question of generation but also of values?

France is certainly no exception: many countries have experienced desert crossings. Before its recent resurgence in the 2010s with Fabio Fognini, Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner or Lorenzo Musetti, Italy had eaten its black bread since Adriano Panatta’s coronation at Roland (1976). If German tennis can now count on Alexander Zverev, he was not proud after the retirement of Boris Becker and Michael Stich.

Such is the whim of generational waves. But Jean-Paul Loth still points to a responsibility of the Federation in 2010.”It is the failure of a system. At one point, we gave potential future players a little too much to put in their full effort to succeed at the highest level. Then we removed tennis studies, as everything had to be done through the club and the parents. But neither the clubs nor the parents have the resources to take a player through the 7 or 8 years of his training.

In short, it is difficult to strike a balance between the desire to place young people of high potential in the best conditions and the danger of too much comfort incompatible with the hardships of a high standard. †The hole is worse than it was in the 1970s. What’s reassuring is that we now have a former player at the head of the house who knows what he’s talking about. But if you’ve lost some of the mindset and the discipline, meaning completely surrendering yourself to a sport with respect for people, things and sporting principles, you have to persevere to get it back.Lot warned again.

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Be inspired by Gaston: we have a hole yes, but we have to fight to get out

In the short term, it will have to be done with the available resources. However, one thing is certain: this Roland-Garros will not take place indifferently on the French side. Because it will also be a matter of paying tribute to a productive generation at the start of the tournament. Against Casper Ruud and Pablo Carreno Busta respectively in the 1st round, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon hit their last racket shots on the Paris ocher. Emotion and excitement guaranteed.

What can the others strive for? A 3rd round would have been a great achievement. In the case of a second week, we would be close to a performance. †Whether for men or women, succeeding at Roland simply means fighting like dogs on all counts, in all sets and in all matches.urges our advisor. If it smiles, it would be to win a few. But above all, it would be to show that they are not afraid of anything. We have to be inspired by what Gaston did against Thiem a year and a half ago. He didn’t have the a priori level to participate and he had a huge competition. We have a hole yes, but we have to fight to get out

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