Franco-Cameroun relations: No Frenchman has won a Grand Slam title since Yannick Noah in 1983 0

With no Frenchmen seeded in singles at Roland Garros this year, the home country is unlikely to see its first male champion since Yannick Noah’s lone win back in 1983. But as one generation of nearly-men bows out, there are signs a new one is readying to take up the challenge.

No Frenchman has won a Grand Slam title since Yannick Noah’s French Open triumph in 1983.

It’s been 40 years since a Frenchman last won a singles Grand Slam title – and marking the anniversary of Noah’s famous win has become a nostalgic ritual for a nation starved of success.

The former tennis-champ-turned-pop-star was back on the French Open stage at the weekend for a celebration of his 1983 title, this time holding a mic instead of a racket. He strode barefoot on the famous red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier and performed a dozen songs – joined on stage by his opponent from 40 years ago, Matts Wilander.

Asked why no other Frenchman had emulated his success since then, he joked: “Because I’m not coaching anymore.”

Noah, who captained France to victory in both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup, later had a stark piece of advice for French youngsters hoping for a breakthrough: to pack their bags and travel abroad.

“You have to go and nourish yourself elsewhere, because we’re used to losing at all levels,” he told reporters. “All coaches have lost. None of them have won. So you’re surrounded by people who have all lost.”

‘As if Real Madrid had won nothing’

Look abroad is precisely what the French Tennis Federation (FFT) has done, tapping Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic, the former player and coach who was credited with improving Roger Federer’s game in his twilight years, guiding the Swiss to three more Grand Slam titles.

A former world number three, Ljubicic was put in charge of a programme dubbed Ambition 2024, aimed at improving French tennis and nurturing a new generation of champions. As he took on the job in December, the towering Croat expressed bafflement at the dearth of tennis success in France.

“Non-French people are always puzzled by tennis in your country,” he told French reporters. “It’s as if Real Madrid had won nothing for a long time.”

Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open champion, made blunter comments at a tournament in Marseille earlier this year, saying it was “sad” not to see better players in a country “with a Grand Slam tournament and ample resources to invest in the future of tennis”.

 Self-flagellation has been a recurrent theme at the French Open, particularly on anniversary years. In 2018, as organisers marked 30 years since the last time a Frenchman – Henri Leconte – reached the final, the 1988 runner-up blasted the players’ lack of dedication and mental toughness.

“They don’t train on clay as much as we used to,” said the flamboyant Leconte. “They are afraid to play at the French Open. They are always coming with an excuse, saying, ‘Oh, I have a bad back or elbow’.”

The harsh assessment was shared by some fans at Roland Garros, who flagged the home players’ inability to cope with expectations.

“The French have great courts and great players, but at this level in tennis it’s the mental strength that makes the difference,” said Marcus from Denmark, sheltering from the sun that has blessed the tournament’s opening days. He drew a parallel with the former world number one Andy Murray, who finally ended Britain’s decades-long wait for a male Grand Slam title “despite facing even greater pressure at Wimbledon”.

Murray, who lost eight of his 11 Grand Slam finals, all of them against either Djokovic or Federer, would certainly have seen more success had he not landed in the era of the “Big Three”. It’s a point Marion Bartoli, the last French player to win a major in 2013, also raised in the run-up to the French Open, stressing that the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gaël Monfils were equally unfortunate to have faced such formidable opponents throughout their careers.

Culled from France 24