Sports Tennis

The Current and Way forward for French Tennis

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Adrian Mannarino couldn’t stifle his chuckle.

He had simply been requested what it meant to him to be the top-ranked males’s tennis participant from France.

“Properly,” Mannarino stated in a video interview from a match in Astana, Kazakhstan, in early October, “this isn’t a superb signal for French tennis.”

Mannarino, at 35, is in his twentieth 12 months on the ATP Tour. He has by no means been ranked on this planet’s high 20 and has by no means superior past the spherical of 16 at a Grand Slam match. He did win the championship in Astana, although, his fourth profession title and second of the 12 months.

The victory propelled Mannarino’s world rating to No. 24, simply two off from his career-high from March 2018. However, as he heads into the Paris Masters for the thirteenth time, Mannarino is keenly conscious of the void of high expertise in France.

“All of us knew that at any time when Gaël [Monfils], Richard [Gasquet], Gilles [Simon] and Jo [Wilfried Tsonga] would get previous, there could be a time when French tennis could be in bother,” stated Mannarino, of 4 French gamers who’ve all been ranked throughout the high 10 however at the moment are of their late thirties and have both retired or dropped down considerably within the rankings. (Although Monfils did win his twelfth profession title in Stockholm final week.)

“We’re nonetheless ready for the younger gamers to get to the highest. There’s a whole lot of expertise, however it’s taking slightly little bit of time to get to the highest stage,” he stated.

There at the moment are 13 Frenchmen within the high 100, however solely 4 — Arthur Fils, Luca van Assche, Ugo Humbert and Hugo Gaston — are 25 or youthful. Fils has proven probably the most promise.

At simply 19, Fils, a finalist on the French Open junior championship in 2021, started the season ranked exterior the highest 250 and taking part in on the lower-level challenger circuit. He’s now ranked No. 38.

In February, Fils broke via in his dwelling nation, reaching back-to-back semifinals in Montpellier and Marseille, the place he beat Stan Wawrinka. He received his first ATP title in Lyon, France, in Might, and reached the semifinals in Hamburg, Germany, beating Casper Ruud earlier than falling to the eventual champion, Alexander Zverev. Fils upset Stefanos Tsitsipas en path to the ultimate in Antwerp, Belgium, final week earlier than he went all the way down to Alexander Bublik within the championship match.

Fils additionally made his Davis Cup debut for France alongside Mannarino in September after which was chosen by Bjorn Borg, captain of Staff Europe, to be one of many group’s six representatives on the Laver Cup. He misplaced his lone singles match there to Ben Shelton.

Fils stated he has modeled his recreation after his countryman Tsonga, a giant hitter who was runner-up to Novak Djokovic on the 2008 Australian Open and reached 5 different main semifinals.

“Tsonga was certainly one of my idols after I was youthful,” Fils stated. “He had a giant serve, some nice forehands and was in superb bodily situation. I’m attempting to do the identical and play so much with my forehand and attempt to serve a whole lot of aces.”

Mannarino’s model of play is sort of the other. It’s best described as sturdy and dependable, although he advantages from a left-handed hook serve that pulls opponents off court docket.

“I’m not likely highly effective, so I’m attempting to be slightly smarter,” stated Mannarino. “I’m shifting fairly effectively and adapting to my opponent’s recreation more often than not. I’m like a counterpuncher; I exploit the facility of my opponent and simply attempt to be as constant as I can. And if my opponent can miss some photographs, I’m all the time pleased.”

Although solely two years youthful than Gasquet and Monfils, each of whom have seen their rankings drop out of the highest 50, Mannarino is taking part in a few of the finest tennis of his life. Final 12 months, he reached the spherical of 16 on the Australian Open earlier than shedding to the eventual winner, Rafael Nadal. This 12 months, he beat Shelton and Hubert Hurkacz on the Miami Open to achieve the spherical of 16 and has wins over Daniil Medvedev and Taylor Fritz. And but solely as soon as, in 2020, has he reached the third spherical on the Paris Masters.

“I’ve by no means had nice outcomes at Bercy, however I really feel like I’m actually having fun with my time after I’m taking part in there,” Mannarino stated, referring to the positioning of the match. As a toddler, he would sit within the high stage of the stadium with pals from his native tennis membership and cheer on the French gamers. “It’s all the time good to have the French crowd supporting you, particularly the Parisians, as a result of it’s fairly noisy and a superb ambiance.”

France has a wealthy and huge tennis historical past. Suzanne Lenglen received Wimbledon six occasions from 1919 to 1925. Yvon Petra received Wimbledon in 1946, and Yannick Noah grew to become the primary Frenchman in 37 years to win at Roland Garros in 1983.

Mary Pierce received the Australian Open in 1995 and the French Open in 2000. Amélie Mauresmo, a former world No. 1, captured each the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006. And Marion Bartoli took the Wimbledon title in 2013.

However there are not any extra revered French gamers than the 4 Musketeers — Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste — who led their nation to the Davis Cup six straight years, from 1927 to 1932.

“His health coach got here to me after and stated, ‘Oh, Arthur didn’t prefer it; it was going too quick for him and he might barely sustain,’” Mannarino stated. “After which, a number of years later he’s virtually beating me. He’s improved so quick, and his tennis is de facto mature for his age.”

Mannarino is aware of his time left on tour is proscribed by his age. However, to date, he doesn’t see himself as previous.

“I don’t really feel previous as a result of I don’t really feel like my tennis stage is dropping but, even my bodily situation,” he stated. “I simply really feel like a child in my head, and I’m attempting to take pleasure in my life on the tour. So long as my legs can nonetheless run, I’m going to maintain attempting my finest.”