There are currently 10 Frenchmen in the world’s top 100, a number second only to Spain. And yet you have to go back 30 years to find the last Frenchman, Yannick Noah at Roland Garros in 1983, to win a grand slam singles title. Many since have flattered to deceive and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Henri Leconte, Arnaud Clement and Cedric Pioline (twice) all lost in grand slam finals. The women have won four grand slam titles in that time so is there a reason why the men are close, but no cigar? The Tennis Space asked one of the country’s top coaches, Patrick Mouratoglou, what’s going (slightly) wrong?
Is it just because the top four are so strong these days?
Obviously the top four is good but there is a Scottish player in the top four, a Swiss one, a Spanish one, and a Serbian and there are no French. I think this French generation that we have is probably the most talented in the world. (Richard) Gasquet, Tsonga, (Gael) Monfils are probably three of the most talented on the Tour. They are of course very good players but not champions and not winning grand slams. And definitely those three could have been. Tennis-wise, physically-wise, gifts-wise, they could have been grand slam champions. But I’ve always said it and I always believe it; I think we are a great country of tennis, because we are so many players, we have 1 million registered people playing tennis and we have a great system for detecting players. I think the level of coaches is really high, so most of the players have very good skills, very good technique. We have a very good club system, a very good tournament system, probably the best in the world for many things but we don’t have the champions’ mentality in France. Most of the players get too much too early, too much money, exposure, everything and definitely not enough ambition.
Do French players just like to look good, rather than do the dirty work to win?
French people are satisfied with not so much. This is absolutely untrue for an Australian guy or a Serbian; they want to be the best, if they’re not the best, they’re not satisfied. Most of the French players are under-achievers, 90 percent of them. The only one who is not an under-achiever, I would say, is (Arnaud) Clement. Gasquet, Monfils, they’re all the same. There is something to look at which is interesting. Tsonga played unbelievable at the Australian Open one year but apart from this, if you look at Monfils, for example, the only tournaments he won were in France, the only moments he plays well in the season are Roland Garros and Paris Bercy and that’s it. Why? Because then the motivation is higher. It says a lot in a way. It’s not about tennis or the physical ability, it’s about ambition. The ones who win are the most ambitious. I’ve seen French players giving up in grand slams many times, and this is not acceptable.
If there is one exception it’s Tsonga who is a bit more, but only a bit. French players don’t see themselves so big, first, and second, they don’t have the ambition, which is not true for Spanish people, for example, who are our neighbours. Spanish, in all sports, they see themselves at the top and if they don’t reach the top they’re not satisfied. It’s not that they want to look good but they give more credit to talent than to work. If you are too confident you are cocky. French people judge a lot and they don’t accept people who are a bit too confident and they don’t accept people who are workers. If you are talented, it’s like: ‘great, this is beautiful’. No, the best talent is the one that works hard and for winning, and for ambition. So we put as important the things that are less important.
Is it really a national thing, though, because France won the football World Cup and you have had lots of world champions in many sports?
I’ve thought about it several times and I don’t understand how we did it (won the World Cup). First of all we obviously had an unbelievable group. Most of them were also unbelievably intelligent, which in soccer is really rare. And there was an unbelievable state of mind. But most of them were not French. They don’t have French culture. Like (Zinedine) Zidane. Of course, he is French, but he did not come from France. And there were so many black people coming from Africa, so it was a very big mix. They were French, of course, but also most of them played in different countries, not in France. Ninety percent of them played in good countries like Spain, Italy, where the mentality was different.