French need another Noah to end win drought

French hopes of finally celebrating another male champion at Roland Garros have taken another big hit with the news that Gael Monfils is out due to injury.

Updated: May 25, 2012 09:53 IST
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Paris: French hopes of finally celebrating another male champion at Roland Garros have taken another big hit with the news that Gael Monfils is out due to injury.

Already optimism was not high on the home front that someone could step forward and play the tournament of his life, as Yannick Noah did 29 years ago, to win the tournament.

Noah's watershed win brought an end to 37 years without a Frenchman holding aloft the Coupe des Mousquetaires (Marcel Bernard won in 1946) and with Noah still in his prime, and the likes of Henri Leconte and Guy Forget coming through, the future looked bright.

But apart from Leconte's run into the final in 1988, when he dismally lost in straight sets to Mats Wilander and was roundly jeered by the French fans, it has been a dismal picture.

Still, with a new generation of talented French players emerging a few years back, hopes were revived that a home win would soon be achieved.

That has turned out not to be the case.

Firstly there was the emergence of Rafael Nadal, widely seen as the greatest claycourt player of all time.

The Spaniard has won the French Open a record-equalling six times since 2005 and the one year he did not, in 2009, it was Roger Federer who stepped forward to take the title.

Now, with world number one Novak Djokovic also more than capable of winning the only Grand Slam event to be played on clay, the chances of others prevailing are slim.

Monfils did make it through to the semi-finals in 2008, when he gave Federer a good run for his money, but repeated injuries since then have limited his progress.

Top French hope this year will be world number five Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but clay has never been his favourite surface and his comments in Rome last week sounded defeatist.

"To be able to win at Roland Garros, first of all you have to have won a Masters Series tournament on this surface," he told the French press.

"For the moment we (French players) are incapable of winning a Masters Series on any surface.

"It's no disgrace to admit that we are not on the same level as the top players.

"There are also a lot of players below our level. It's not an admission of inevitability, it's just what I see as the truth."

Tsonga apart, French tennis fans will be hoping that either Gilles Simon or Richard Gasquet can go deep into the tournament.

Simon has played a lot of claycourt tennis this year, winning a tournament in Bucharest and reaching the semi-finals in Monte Carlo.

But stacked against him is his lack of power and the fact that in six previous appearances at Roland Garros he has yet to get beyond the last 16.

Gasquet, a prodigy in his early teens who has struggled to turn his obvious talents into big tournament wins, is coming off a straight sets win over Andy Murray in Rome.

For the rest it will simply be a case of trying to survive the first week.

Worryingly for French tennis, there does not appear to be a new wave of promising players coming through to eventually take over from Tsonga, Monfils and Simon who are all in their mid-20s.

For Noah, who converted to reggae singing after he retired from tennis and who remains hugely popular in France, has sympathy with his young compatriots but he says they need to believe in themselves at least.

"It is useless to say, 'This year I will win," Noah said. "However, dreaming of winning, that's fine.

"The worst thing is not even dreaming of victory. What happens is that the French do not even dream of winning. French players perform better on other surfaces, which is a shame because they do not have the chance to play well at home."

"We have had a problem with claycourts for years."

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  • Tennis
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
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