It's no from Noah for French hopes

Yannick Noah believes that none of the current crop of French tennis players are capable of matching his exploit in winning the French Open 30 years ago.

Updated: May 25, 2013 08:36 IST
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Paris: Yannick Noah believes that none of the current crop of French tennis players are capable of matching his exploit in winning the French Open 30 years ago.

The dreadlocked star's straight sets win over Mats Wilander in 1983 remains the last male home title win, coming as it did 37 years after the previous one by Marcel Bernard in 1946.

In that time, only Henri Leconte in 1988 has managed to reach the final for France and he lost in straight sets to Wilander.

But hopes were raised when the current generation of French players arrived on the scene a few years back, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet all touted as potential Grand Slam winners.

To date none have done so and the annual consecration of the claycourt season in the Paris springtime has become something of a cross to bear for the home players.

Noah, who became a reggae singer when he retired in 1996, and who still performs on stage at 53, believes that it has been their bad luck to be competitive at a moment of exceptional quality at the top of the sport.

Asked if he felt that 30 years after his triumph another Frenchman was about to win La Coupe des Mousquetaires, Noah told Le Monde newspaper: "Not now - not this generation.

"It's not that I think they are no good. It's just that the guys ahead of them are stronger.

"Jo (-Wilfried Tsonga) is capable of beating a top five player at any time, if he plays an exceptional match, but he can't do that twice in a row. Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, over five sets, they are just better."

"Jo hasn't been as fortunate as I was, that's for sure. I think that overall we have similar levels, it's just that a door opened up for me.

"There was one guy to beat (that year) - Lendl - and I crushed him (in the quarter-finals). Against Mats, at that time, I had no problems. I was able to dominate him with my game."

Bearing out what Noah said is Tsonga's defeat to Djokovic in last year's quarter-finals when he let slip four match points in the fourth set before losing 6-1 in the fifth.

It was an eye-opener for the popular Tsonga, who, like Noah, has an African-born sportsman father who married a white French woman.

"After that match I realised that there was a huge gap between me and those kind of players. So I did everything I could and everything that was possible to improve," he said.

"I took a coach so I could practise even more seriously, and I also tried to have very well balanced training sessions. I was totally committed.

"I did everything I could to be able to sustain the competition with those players."

Roger Federer, who knows how hard it is to win in Paris, having lost three straight finals to Nadal before finally coming good in 2009, believes that a French win is possible, but only if the public get fully behind their players as they did with Noah in 1983.

"I don't know if you need to show patience but anything is possible. We all start the tournament on Sunday and maybe the French have more opportunities on other surfaces, like in Wimbledon or hard courts, but here they have the crowd," the Swiss star said.

"I think there was a great support for Noah 30 years ago and players know that. I think this is where they play the best tennis, because they feel comfortable here in France.

"With crowd support this big, it helps you, supports you and makes you trust that you can defeat any player all the way till the last point you play."

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