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French future or a drought just around the corner?

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Pouille is progressing, but there is a lack of numbers behind him.

French tennis has waited a long time for a male grand slam champion. Yannick Noah was their last champion back in 1983 at the French Open.

 

Many have tried. Sebastien Grosjean made four semi finals, Richard Gasquet three, and Jo Wilfried Tsonga a final and multiple semis. Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon have also broken the top ten, but that elusive title remains out of reach. Grosjean is now retired, but the other four still consistently ensure that at least one Frenchman appears involved in outside contender talk at most Slams.

But this is group is ageing. All four are either twenty-nine or thirty, well past the average age when a Grand Slam winner picks up his maiden title. With Tsonga and Monfils hampered in particular by poor injury records, it is unlikely that this group will remain around for more than the next two to three years.

So what else is there for the French?

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a whole lot. There are just three French players under the age of twenty-eight in the men’s top 100. Adrian Mannarino and Benoit Paire both have excitable games and undeniable talent. But they are inconsistent. Both are prone to meander in form, and neither have the talent to go deep into the Grand Slams. Paire’s recent revival and consecutive wins over Kei Nishikori have been soured by earlier defeats to Rogerio Dutra Silva, Tim Puetz, and Marco Chuidinelli. He is at a career high ranking of twenty-one, yet elected to play a Challenger last week.

The final player is Lucas Pouille. A talent for sure, and is holding a place well inside the top 100 at sixty-eight this week. Considering he started the year ranked at one hundred and thirty-three, his rise this year puts him in contention perhaps for the Newcomer of the Year Award. At twenty-one there is hope he can solidify and improve upon his ranking, and with wins against Dominic Thiem, Juan Monaco and Fabio Fognini, there is promise. But there are holes in his game. Defeats this year have come to Yan Bai, Lukasz Kubot, Sekou Bangoura, and Evgeny Donskoy. These are all since his ranking elevation. He has a good game, but does not excite like another generation of young players such as Australia’s Bernard Tomic, or Nick Kyrgios. With Alexander Zverev, Borna Coric, Hyeon Chung, and a whole host of Americans waiting in the wings, Pouille will be in what looks a fiercely competitive generation.

Is there at least depth for the future? If anything, the French can have been able to provide strong numbers, regularly taking double digit numbers as representatives for main draws of Grand Slam events. But even the depth is ageing. Nicolas Mahut and Paul-Henri Mathieu are now veterans, and will be doing well if they maintain their rankings over the coming year. Pierre-Hugues Herbert is twenty-four, but has never maintained top 100 status for very long. Julien Benneteau has been hit by injury, and is in the same situation as Mathieu and Mahut. Edouard Roger-Vasselin has fallen massively from the top, and now enjoys most of his success on the doubles circuit. Quentin Halys is the only French teenager ranked inside the Top 200, at one hundred and ninety. He is trying to make progress through the Challenger circuit, but does not have a major win under his belt.

Beyond Halys there are youngsters of a sort. Maxime Hamou and Calvin Hemery are names with youth on their side. Both have appeared often in Challenger draws, with very limited progress. Laurent Lokoli was predicted as a big hope but has lost his way. Gianni Mina, saddled with the tag of “Baby Monfils”, peaked at eighteen.

The present remains stable, even exciting at times for French tennis. But every nation seems to go through a generation gap (the United States might just be coming out of one) and France looks like it might be about to endure one. It seems that the best chance the French have is for one of their current stars to defy the odds and break that elusive thirty-two year win less streak. If one of them does not manage it, the wait could be a whole lot longer.

 

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Cori Gauff: The Finest Example Of The Williams Sisters Legacy At Wimbledon

$1 million in endorsements and a win over Venus before her 16th birthday. America has a new sporting sensation on the horizon.

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photo by Roberto Dell'Olivo

WIMBLEDON: A star was born at the All England Club on Monday as the latest teenage talent sent soundwaves around the women’s circuit.

 

Just over a week ago 15-year-old Cori Gauff found out that she has received a wild card to play in this year’s Wimbledon qualifying tournament. Battling through three rounds, she reached her first main draw at a major. The youngest player in the Open Era to have ever done that. Little did the public know at the time, that was only the start.

Taking to Court 1, Gauff took on her idol, Venus Williams. A seven-time grand slam champion who made her debut at the tournament almost seven years before she was born. In a battle of the generations, youth prevailed as Gauff roared to a sensational 6-4, 6-4, win. Producing a mental and physical display that went well beyond her age. Hitting 18 winners to eight unforced errors and saving two out of the three break points she faced.

“I’m super shocked. But I’m just super blessed that Wimbledon decided to give me the wild card. I mean, I never expected this to happen.” Said Gauff.
“I literally got my dream draw, so I’m just super happy I was able to pull it out today. She played amazing, was just super nice. She’s always been nice the couple times I met her.”

Gauff is one of the many who have benefitted from the legacy created by both Williams and her sister Serena. The most successful siblings in the entire history of the sport. Just seconds after the biggest win of her life, Gauff spoke with Venus at the net. Paying tribute to what she has achieved in the sport.

“I was just telling her thank you for everything she’s done for the sport. She’s been an inspiration for many people. I was just really telling her thank you.”

It could be argued that too much hype is gathering around the youngster, who had to take an online science test on the eve of her final qualifying match. However, Gauff is not an ordinary teenager. Even before Wimbledon, she has earned the reputation of being a teenage prodigy. As a junior, she contested the final of the US Open at the age of 13 in 2017 before winning the French Open the following year. At the Miami Open in March, she won her first match on the WTA Tour.

“Cori is such an exciting young player. She’s so cool. She’s a great girl. I love her dad. There’s just really cool people.” Former world No.1 Serena said on Saturday.

The rise of the American hasn’t gone unnoticed in the corporate world. She already has endorsements with food manufacturer Barilla, clothing brand New Balance and sports equipment maker Head. Forbes magazine lists her endorsements as being worth in the region of $1 million.

The Williams sisters aren’t her only heroes. Another is Roger Federer, who also has an endorsement deal with Barilla. It was a conversation from the Swiss maestro that Gauff links with her grand slam triumph in the juniors.

“Roger Federer definitely inspired me. When I lost in the first round Australian Open juniors, I talked to him. Gave me kind of a pep talk. The next tournament was French Open juniors, and I ended up winning it, so I guess it helped.” She said.

The desire to be the greatest

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Fresh off her win over Williams, Gauff was questioned as to what her goal was next at The All England Club. She responded by saying, `to win it.’ The determination is something past onto her from her family. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

“I want to be the greatest. My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. Obviously, you never believe it.” She explained.
“I’m still, like, not 100% confident. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what happens.”

Williams is one of those who think Gauff has what it takes to rise to the top. Visibly frustrated by her loss to the rising star, the 39-year-old was impressed with what she saw on the court.

“I think the sky’s the limit, it really is,” Venus said of Gauff.
“She did everything well today. She put the ball in the court, which was much better than I did. She served well, moved well. It was a great match for her.”

Only time will tell how great Gauff can become. It isn’t all down to ability. How she fair over the coming years mentally under the spotlight will be a stern test. As it was for previously teenage talents of the game such as Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati. Although the signs are good.

“This is just a tournament. I’ve played a lot of tournaments. Obviously, this one is a little bit different. But I’m just right now relaxing, then focus on the next round tomorrow.” She stated.

Now the talk of the entire tournament, Gauff will play Magdaléna Rybáriková in the second round. A former semi-finalist back in 2017 who knocked out 10th seed Aryna Sabalenka in her opening match. Like Venus said ‘skies the limit’ for the new star of women’s tennis.

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At Curtains For 2019 French Open, It Was All About Women Proffering Intrepidity

Ashleigh Barty’s maiden Major title win over Marketa Vondrousova culminated an eventful fortnight from the women, who held themselves distinct vis-à-vis the men at Roland Garros.

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(photo by Gianni Ciaccia)

What will we remember about the 2019 French Open? The return of Roger Federer, or the restarting of his 15-year-old rivalry at the tournament with Rafael Nadal, or Nadal’s bid for an umpteenth title, or Dominic Thiem’s thwarting of Novak Djokovic’s second Roland Garros – and non-calendar Slam – title. Or, will we think of how botched up French Tennis Federation’s (FFT) organisational and scheduling skills were, in which the male players looked to have preferential footing over the women. The controversy involving Thiem’s and Serena Williams’ press conferences, notwithstanding?

 

We will remember all of these. Even so, thinking about how one press conference was shunted aside to accommodate the other, ostensibly that of a man, will be a reminder of how women snatched the narrative of the event for themselves, from start to finish.

When the women’s singles draw was released, the usual bunch of names remained in the spotlight. Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, (then) defending champion Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina, and even Serena Williams dominated the discussion even as the other seeded and non-seeded players remained in contention. As is wont in tennis – especially in women’s tennis – predictions about potential upsets also took an important place of their own, though no one really expected a wild ride this time around.

At least, that was the consensus with expectations overflowing that one among these women would fulfil the coffers of consistency. However, as results flew about in a non-linear manner, rather than heighten frustrations about the women’s tour’s unpredictability, exuberance reigned high about the currently-prevailing depth in the women’s side of the game.

Case in point: Johanna Konta reaching the semi-final in Paris in spite of possessing a poor record previously in the tournament. Or, the manner in which youngsters such as Sofia Kenin, Amanda Anisimova, and Marketa Vondrousova rose collectively in a show-of-arms about them being the sport’s future, extending the subject from where Osaka had left it off at the Australian Open. Even 23-year-old Ashleigh Barty’s winning her first Major against the 19-year-old Vondrousova, for that matter, can be considered a continuation of the aspect of the younger lot shining.

The NextGen Dilemma

And one cannot help but think if the lack of hyping about Next Generation” players among the women has contributed to younger non-favourites finding it easy to establish themselves in the mainstay of the WTA tour.

It would be wrong to compare the men’s half of tennis with that of the women. Nonetheless, there is no denying that the likes of Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas gained somewhat premature prominence. In that, the roadmap about their probable path to glory was set even before they could find – and make – their place in the frenetic tour. To be honest, except for Zverev, and Tsitsipas this year, the others are still struggling to push themselves to where they are capable of belonging.

Not that all younger players in the women’s tour have found their groove. For many, it is still work-in-progress. Having said that though, it is unquestionable that the WTA’s pace is way ahead of that of the ATP in being able to bring its future to the forefront parallelly alongside its present.

That the organisers of the 2019 French Open were oblivious to this unique selling proposition (USP) of the women’s game as it went about prioritising the other gender, then, ought to be remembered the most about the Major. So that by the time the next Slam – and even other events – come about, apathy and indifference do not tar the women’s draw, reducing it to some kind of unavoidable-yet-unimportant sideshow.

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2019 French Open: Where The ‘Fedal’ Twain Shall Meet Again

The re-igniting of the Fedal rivalry at the French Open has renewed implications, going beyond the event itself

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, French Open 2005
Photo Credit: Live Tennis

For a while now, make that years’ worth, we have been waiting for a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal clash at the US Open. The draws have been made, either they have been grouped in the same half – and one has fallen short – or they have happened to be in different halves entirely, and have never met.

 

One reason for the higher-than-usual (in the last couple of years) pangs to see Fedal square-off in New York is because of how each of their meetings in the three other Majors has been. We have seen Nadal end Federer’s reign as the favourite at Wimbledon, and the Australian Open. The first result coming about after multiple attempts while achieving the second, in a far easier manner.

But it is what we have had the opportunity to see in Roland Garros that has kept this rivalry distinct and blazing, impervious to time passing by. Twelve of their previous 38 matches have come at the three Majors. Five of these 12 meetings have come by in Paris, four in finals and once in that fated semi-final in 2005, which in the truest of terms was the origin of this rivalrous duopoly. And, it had to happen the way it did for audiences to understand the significance of what this rivalry was and would continue to be.

Though, for a moment, let us imagine an alternate reality. A reality in which the Swiss, instead of the Spaniard, won their first meeting and the ones to follow thereafter. Let us think of an alt-verse where results at the 2008 French Open and Wimbledon did not turn out the way they did. And it was the Mallorcan in place of the Basel-born who needed a coincidental intervention to halt the latter in his tracks in Paris, the following year.

If all of these had transpired, would we have felt the same way about the two being the nemesis of each other? What hold would each player have had in our lives? Would we be thinking of them as a duology, where each player is one half of a pair that has added to men’s tennis’ qualitative appeal?

Indeed, they would have been rivals still but we would not have seen them as equals – as the greatest of the game – despite the clear unevenness in their head-to-head, albeit in Federer’s favour. Most of all, if they had been slated to play in the semi-final of the French Open nearly a decade-and-a-half removed since their first meeting there under such envisioned reality, perhaps, we would not have been this excited about the prospective match-up.

The reality as we know it is so much better. In its moments of exultation and in times of despair – for the players, their fans and even for the supposedly unbiased viewers – reality has presented the players as humans. Each match between Federer and Nadal has seen both players put forth this quality – humanness – at the forefront while vying for wins. Regardless of how easy or hard the results have come by for either player.

When Federer and Nadal step onto the court for their 39th meeting, they will try to do the same all over again, impassive to time’s turning. As Federer said, “Like against any player, there is always a chance. Otherwise, nobody will be in the stadium to watch because everybody already knows the result in advance…For me to get to Rafa is not simple. It took five matches here for me to win to get there. That’s why I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa, because he’s that strong and he will be there.

In a way, this match is also about getting closure, specifically in the French capital.

Where Wimbledon and the Australian Open have given us relative cessation, the French Open has remained in limbo in its one-sidedness. This contest, coming at a time when both have different highs at their backs, promises to be an interesting pivot for them to revisit their rivalry and their legacy at the Majors.

Even as it rekindles exigency for more of their matches at the Majors. Not only in Flushing Meadows later in the year, but perhaps in the soon-to-follow Wimbledon championships, too, in a unique kind of second wind.

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