Richard Gasquet s’est incliné dès le premier tour pour sa 20e participation à Roland Garros. /Photo prise le 30 mai 2023/REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
The numbers don’t lie.
The French were toast on their own turf.
When Arthur Rinderknech lost to Taylor Fritz in four sets on June 1, he was the last member of the French delegation to be ousted from Roland-Garros. Of the 55 French players who qualified, none made it through to the third round.
You read that right: none. Not a single one. Zéro.
Every host country wants its players to go as far as possible at their home tournaments. National programs develop the athletes, organize lower-level events so they can compete and invite their own to give them an extra boost to help them win and, by the same token, thrill their fellow citizens.
It’s the same everywhere, including here in Canada, at the National Bank Open in Montréal and Toronto. So just imagine being one of only four countries to host a Slam. And imagine having 55 of your own in the mix!
In Paris, in the WTA event, there were 10 French players in the main draw and 13 in the qualifying tournament for a total of 23.
In the ATP event, there were 18 French players in the main draw and 14 who didn’t get through the qualifying rounds for a total of 32.
Even with 32 members of the Top 200 (13 in the WTA and 19 in the ATP), none made it past round 2.
Read also: French Open Firsts for Canadians
It was only the second time since 1968 that French men’s tennis suffered such an overwhelming defeat. The other time was in 2021, so basically yesterday. Nicolas Escudé, technical director of the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) and former No.17, put the responsibility on the players, while former FFT president Bernard Giudicelli took things one step further by calling the entire episode a sham. In an interview with Tennis Actu, he said the FFT had failed in its mission since it couldn’t keep the momentum of training its elite.
Expect some pushback from coaches and players, since the comments are particularly insulting to the athletes who give their all to win.
Of course, the hubbub made its way to social media, which has become an outlet for sarcasm directed at French tennis. There’s some serious shade being thrown around, including this low-key brutal meme about the French women and men who made it to the third round:
Even though they’ve been floating around for a while, the jokes still perfectly illustrate the current state of mind of French tennis fans.
To borrow from French wine speak, 2023 isn’t a grand cru.
The most recent bright spots came when Fiona Ferro found her way to the quarters and Hugo Gaston to the round of 16 at RG 2020.
As for the last homegrown heroes to raise the winner’s trophy, you have to look back 40 years to Yannick Noah (read about that anniversary here) and 23 years to Mary Pierce in 2000.
And even then. With all due respect, Pierce was only French by virtue of her mother’s nationality, since she was born in Montréal and grew up in the United States. She picked up a racquet for the first time at the age of 10 in Florida and didn’t start speaking French until she was 13.
A lot like Naomi Osaka and Maria Sharapova, who were born in Japan and Russia, respectively, but started their tennis lives as young kids in the US.
Read also: Forbes and Tennis
But back to the French fail.
The frustration it triggered provides an easy explanation for the behaviour of the local fans in the stands on June 1 when World No.8 Taylor Fritz took on the last Frenchman standing.
No.82 Arthur Rinderknech was his nation’s only hope. Against all odds, he took the first set 6-2 but couldn’t keep it going and dropped the next three 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
The disappointment quickly turned to ire and then to harassment when the Californian tried to shush the crowd while he was on serve and then again after he’d won.
As you can imagine, the yelling continued during the on-court interview as Grand Slam champion Marion Bartoli did her best to ask Fritz a few questions.
But who’s at fault? The crowd for getting too emotional or Fritz for rubbing salt in the wound?
Both, in my opinion.
In the meantime, we can only hope fans will find some other form of catharsis. A great tennis nation like France deserves better.
Serving up tennis
While we’re on the topic of French tennis, let’s revisit a short video by Canal Plus I shared on this very blog a year ago.
It’s always fun to see the symbols of French gastronomy that are the baguette, cheese and wine served up on the court.
Milos Raonic ramps things up
In an Instagram post on June 2, Milos Raonic confirmed his comeback.
The photo was taken at St George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club in Surrey, England, where he’s been finding his bearings on the ultrafast green courts. It was on grass, of course, that he orchestrated his best Slam performance at the Wimbledon 2016 final.
Here he is after a session with club member Patrick Brady.
As mentioned in the May 17 edition of the blog, with a protected ranking of No.33, Raonic is on the entry list for the Libema Open* in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, where he’ll likely run into Félix Auger-Aliassime.
The following week, Milos is expected to compete in his second preparatory tournament ahead of Wimbledon at the cinch Championships at the venerable Queen’s Club*.
As for Félix (and Denis), they’ll head to the Terra Wortmann Open in Halle, Germany.
*(Please note, Raonic has not confirmed his participation in either event with Tennis Canada).
Follow all our Canadians in action here.