(Paris) It was June 5, 1983: Yannick Noah won the Roland-Garros tournament against the Swede Mats Wilander. A triumph that marked the French people and the history of French sport and which then came 37 years after the last blue, white, red success with Marcel Bernard in 1946.
Last Friday, the native of Sedan returned to the scene of his greatest victory. First, he recounted several of his many memories in the French capital.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said the then-successful singer.
“This event meant a lot to me. At the time, this victory also allowed tennis to develop in France with an impressive boom in the number of licensees. Even today in the street, people stop me almost every time evoking 1983 and this victorious final against Wilander. The testimonials that I receive are always benevolent.
“Somewhere, I am part of the heritage. When I started playing, it was not necessarily for this purpose. We bond with people we don’t necessarily know. So it’s even more moving. »
But since 1983, no other player from France has won either at Roland-Garros or even a Grand Slam tournament. For French tennis, the years go by, but nothing happens. Even Noah does not hide his incomprehension.
“Certainly, several tricolors have played in the finals, like Henri Leconte [Roland-Garros] or Cédric Pioline [Wimbledon and United States Open], but I never thought I would still be the last Frenchman in the record of winning a Grand Slam tournament. »
None of the following generations was therefore able or able to succeed him on the list. A long crossing of the desert that we thought we saw interrupted with the emergence of talents like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gaël Monfils, but the two men never knew how to go after their ambitions before repeated injuries come to stop them in their tracks.
Certainly, the outrageous domination of the magic trio Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal for 15 to 20 years has for many observers constituted a plausible explanation to justify the lack of success of the tricolor players, but it is not the only one. . The reasons are also mental.
Tsonga, Monfils, but also Lucas Pouille, Richard Gasquet or Gilles Simon have never been able to exploit their full potential over time. The fault is a certain athletic fragility, an obvious lack of consistency and a rarely happy management of pressure.
Between media appointments, photo shoot and concert on the Philippe-Chatrier court, Noah was once again faithful to his outspokenness. Since 1988 with Leconte, none of his compatriots has reached the final on clay in Paris.
“If we haven’t had the victory for so many years, I believe that the code of conduct put in place by the ATP has something to do with it as well,” continued Noah.
“This overly harsh regulation is irreparably damaging to this sport. Result: French players who often have a lot of character and personality inevitably suffer. They are thus forced to no longer be able to fully express themselves, for fear of being immediately sanctioned. It’s really unfortunate. In my time, we allowed ourselves more things, which led to a much stronger connection with the public, something unimaginable in 2023.”
It is only among women that Noah’s success seems to have given wings.
“This victory in 1983, and even though it dates back four decades, has played a major role in my life”, explained Amélie Mauresmo, who won two Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open 2006 and Wimbledon 2006) and who is now director of the Parisian tournament.
“Many women then took up the sport, which explains the rise of women’s tennis in our country in the 1990s and 2000s.”
Mary Pierce won the Australian Open in 1995 and Roland-Garros five years later, as well as Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon ten years ago.
What if 2023 was finally the right year? At first glance, it is difficult to build serious hopes there between the recurring injuries of Monfils and the lack of punch and brilliance of the generation of recent years embodied by Ugo Humbert, Corentin Moutet or Arthur Rinderknech.
But new young talents have been showing up for a few weeks, led by Luca Van Assche and Arthur Fils. The latter has just won at only 18 his first tournament on the ATP circuit on the side of Lyon. He is only playing his third year with the pros and he is devouring ambition.
“He’s definitely a talented player,” said Leconte, Noah’s domestic rival in the 1980s and 1990s.
“He is already full of maturity and his game is pretty complete. It is both powerful and very mobile, it has a big serve. In my eyes, he embodies the new generation of French tennis. If we will have to be patient with him, why not have hopes of seeing French tennis back at the top of the bill thanks to him? Personally, I believe in it. »
The optimism is less pronounced in Noah’s mouth.
“For a Frenchman, it’s difficult to be a champion. To change things, it is better to go and feed elsewhere because on your land, you are used to losing, and this, at all levels. Even the coaches have all lost, so all these young players are surrounded by coaches who don’t know how to win. When a Frenchman goes far in a major tournament, he does not know how to manage this phase of success. »
In short, Noah will probably have to wait another lease before seeing a compatriot succeed him on the list…