Yannick Noah: “It’s more difficult to be a champion when you’re French”

On Saturday, the crossing of two news did not fail to make people smile. A friendly nod. At Roland-Garros, French tennis celebrated its main hero on the central court, where, 40 years earlier, Yannick Noah had triumphed by beating Mats Wilander in the final. The two men were reunited again and if the rackets gave way to guitars, since Mats Wilander and his friend Yannick gave a small concert on an improvised stage on the Chatrier, it is indeed a historic achievement that French tennis, the nose in his memories, celebrates this year.

At the same time, more than 450 kilometers away, Arthur Fils began to write his own story by winning the first title of his very young career in Lyon. Not bad, under 19. Time will tell if the new big hope is likely to follow in Noah’s footsteps to become a distant heir, but the best thing to do is probably leave him alone. A wink, nothing more. At this point, anyway.

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I must be very diplomatic…

Yannick Noah, after his playing career supporting several generations of French players through his three terms as captain. His friends, Leconte and Forget, first. Then the little brothers, like Pioline and Boetsch and finally the little children, such as Tsonga or Pouille. But he agrees, his tennis following has now become more sinusoidal. “I don’t follow tennis very much at the moment. I don’t know him enoughhe admits to the evocation of Son… and others. Some I know. But if I were to meet them like that, I’m not sure I would recognize them.

This is no longer quite his story but, whether we like it or not, because no one has succeeded in four decades to imitate him, the king of Roland-Garros 83 remains a point of reference. So he does not claim anything, but if someone, Son or another, feels the need, his door is open. “If I have any advice to give him? It’s ‘If you want, call me’“, laughs the great Yannick before adding: “Even if I have some advice, I won’t say it here..”

His position is tricky. He does not want to pass for the old fart, nor even the old sage, who gives lessons, because advice can quickly be taken for such. Nor does he intend to interfere in anything. He remains just as cautious when asked why no one has managed to do as well as he has for 40 years. “I have to be very diplomatic with this answer you expect from me“, he slips.

Yannick Noah after his victory in 1983.

Credit: Getty Images

culture of defeat

Yannick Noah however advances a track, that of confinement in a kind of culture of defeat. An insidious evil, which no one wants, but which ends up anchoring itself very slowly. And this goes, according to him, far beyond the players alone: ​​”It is possible to go far by being French. But it’s more difficult when you’re French to be a champion. You have to go and feed yourself elsewhere because we are used to losing and at all levels. The coaches have all lost, not one has won. So you are surrounded by people who have all lost. When you win, you say to yourself: ‘What the hell is going on?’. You don’t know what to do.”

He would like nothing better than to find a successor. We are no longer in the 80s, when Noah confessed without false shame that he did not want to see another Frenchman win at Roland. “you owe me everything, Yannickhad also whispered to him Mats Wilander. Imagine if I had won against you and lost in the final against Leconte five years later?“The story would be different, the place of each other in the tricolor elite too, without a doubt.

But it is he who we celebrate today. This does not prevent him from wishing the best to those who are there, to those who arrive and will arrive. “It is not because we celebrate my victory that we do not encourage others“, he insists, recalling in passing a fact too often overlooked: “Me, it’s the last male victory. Girls won. We can also say it. The fact of having celebrated my victory will perhaps make some people want to also celebrate the victory of Mary or Amélie, and of the others. There have been five Grand Slam titles for them.“But we keep remembering it and celebrating it. Because, as he says in conclusion, “It’s really the guys where it sucks to death.

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