PARIS (AP) — The day before the start of this year’s French Open, the last man from the country to win its Grand Slam tournament, Yannick Noah, was feted to mark the 40th anniversary of his championship.
Noah performed a rock concert on a temporary stage set up behind a baseline in the main stadium, and tournament director Amelie Mauresmo, a former No. 1-ranked player and two-time major champion for France, danced right along. Video highlights from Noah’s career, including that 1983 run to the trophy, were shown on scoreboards.
All in all, it amounted to a celebration of some of the glory days of French tennis. There hasn’t been much to celebrate for the local fans over the days since: when the third round began on the red clay of Paris on Friday, there was not one player for the folks in the stands to serenade with “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem, or encourage with yells of “Allez!”
That’s because all 29 players from France — 10 women, 19 men — in the singles fields already were gone from the brackets. This is the second time in three years with zero women or men from France still around after just two rounds (it takes seven victories to earn a title).
Until 2021, that hadn’t happened even once since the dawn of the sport’s Open era in 1968.
“The results are not good,” Nicolas Escudé, the French Tennis Federation’s technical director, acknowledged Friday. “Our goal is the same as everyone’s: to see our players shining. And that’s not the case right now.”
The last French player remaining in either singles draw was Arthur Rinderknech, who heard plenty of enthusiastic support during his 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 loss to No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz of the U.S. on Thursday night.
If Rinderknech did not realize he was the final hope, he received plenty of reminders.
“I heard it about 200 times from the stands,” Rinderknech said. “People were shouting, ‘You’re the last Frenchman! You have to win!”
It was not to be, try as his backers might to rattle Fritz. When the match ended, it was Fritz who got the last say, placing his index finger to his lips to motion to the jeering spectators, “ Ssssshhhhhhh! ”
Still, there were some memorable moments during the five days of the 15-day tournament when the home players were relevant. Lucas Pouille’s run through qualifying and into the second round despite being ranked 675th after dealing with alcoholism and depression. Gael Monfils’ wild victory under the lights in Court Philippe Chatrier in the first round, when he came back from a 4-0 deficit in the fifth set — although even that was tinged with sadness the next day, when he withdrew from the event with an injured wrist.
This sort of thing is not a new problem for France. Noah’s long-ago triumph is the only one by a Frenchman at any Grand Slam tournament since 1946. The women have fared better, including Marion Bartoli’s 2013 Wimbledon title, but their last win at Roland Garros came via Mary Pierce in 2000.
And to think: The French ruled tennis in the 1920s and 1930s via Suzanne Lenglen and the so-called Four Musketeers — Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste — who are honored with statues at Roland Garros (as is Rafael Nadal, the tournament’s 14-time champion from Spain).
One thing mentioned by Escudé, a former Top 20 player and one-time major semifinalist, as he discussed the latest woes was that there was only one French player seeded in Paris in 2023: Caroline Garcia, No. 5 in the women’s bracket.
The point being, essentially, that there wasn’t a lot to work with.
“If I were to ask you, Did you expect a Frenchman to win Roland Garros this year?” Escudé told a journalist at a crowded news conference, before offering the answer himself: “Well, no.”
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