The volley podcast #2 : How did French tennis sink to a new low ?

In the second episode of The Volley, Tennis Majors’ new podcast, Simon Cambers turns host and welcomes Cedric Rouquette, the director of Tennis Majors, to discuss what has gone wrong with French tennis

June 8, 2021

With no French player making it through to the third round of this year’s Roland-Garros, Simon Cambers asks Cedric Rouquette to explain how we got to this point.

“France is a country that still delivers a lot of players. The problem is that we are seeking a Grand Slam winner for the men since 1983. On the women’s side, France has had more winners but nobody since Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon in 2013. We lack players who are able to reach the finals, semi-finals or quarter finals (at the Slams).”

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached a Grand Slam final, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils made Grand Slam semi-finals while on the women’s side, Mary Pierce, Amelie Mauresmo and Marion Bartoli all picked up Grand Slam titles.

Is this the end of an era for French tennis?

“That’s the end of an era, but saying that, you forget that Tsonga, Gasquet and Monfils didn’t win a Grand Slam,” Rouquette added. “They say it’s normal because of the Big 3 era, but Del Potro, Cilic and Wawrinka showed that you could find your path. Tsonga once said that he deserved (to win a Grand Slam) as (much as) Wawrinka deserved. I’m not sure what that means. It’s probably not normal that this generation did not win a Grand Slam and the reason why they didn’t win a Grand Slam is the same that explains why we lack elite players. It’s related to the way we lead players to a high level in France. Why such a powerful federation is not able to create champions while Serbia, Switzerland, Russia, Italy are able to do so.”

The French Tennis Federation held a press conference to address some of the plans to rectify things last week. Rouquette said it was not entirely clear what they planned to do : “Their objective is to let every player, man or woman, to be very clear on the way they want to reach high level, to let them chose their option between federation and private coaches. The Federation say today that every path is legitimate. But it is one thing to say it and another to drive it.”

When winning the Davis Cup was a public effort

Rouquette said to understand French tennis, we need to look at the history of the sport in the country, explaining how Davis Cup used to be the focus for the country.

“After the 1960 Olympics, every federation’s mission statement was to build champions, Rouquette says. The policy that Philippe Chatrier developed was to win the Davis Cup again. FFT made massive efforts to create good players to win the Davis Cup. It was what you can call a national effort. Noah, Leconte, Forget are all the result of this massive effort. Because of this period, you have this idea that the FFT, the public effort know how to produce champions in France. But tennis, these last 25 years, became a sport when champions emerged with their very own professional structure. Is the frame to create champions in the 1980’s on the professional scene the same to create Slam winners in our very competitive era? Probably not and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with at this moment.”

Cambers ends by asking Rouquette what the future holds for French tennis and whether there are any good juniors coming through. The journalist quoted names as Clara Burel, Elsa Jacquemot, Harold Mayot, Arthur Cazeaux and Arthur Fils. But he notes:

“We have talented players. But how will those guys develop in the next ten years? When you listen to the new executives, they have big plans for the future, that will apply to players who are 14 now. France always had very good juniors, but often had problems to transition from the juniors to the seniors. It’s almost too comfortable to be a high level player in France. The problem is to let those rare players who have the mindset of champions develop outside the federal structure if required. The FFT has never created (a structure) for that and that’s what they’re learning to do now.”

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