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Roland Garros…Mon Dieu

By Mark WInters

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“We Can Always Hope…” as former French standout Fabrice Santoro said in a May 19th Reuters feature about men’s tennis in France “…but having anyone reach the second week of Roland Garros would not be logical…”

Gaël Monfils, who was unable to compete because of surgery to remove a bone spur from his right heel, along with Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, were called “Les nouveaux mousquetaires” or Les néo-mousquetaires (The New Musketeers). L’Équipe, the daily sports newspaper, bestowed the nickname on the group and the rest of the French press began to use it too.

In 2021, as the Reuters story noted – Only three Frenchmen survived their opening matches before being eliminated in the second round – their worst collective performance since tennis turned professional in 1968.

Richard Gasquet in Melbourne where he defeated countryman Ugo Humbert in the first round before losing his next match.
Photo: Vanessa Taylor

In fact, Gasquet felt his prospects were so slim that he agreed to become a French television commentator once he was out of the singles…Sebastian Korda of the US obliged by defeating him 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the second round. (Simon upset Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, the No. 16 seed, in five sets in the first round. Cilic brought his Roland Garros singles career to an end in four sets in the third round.)

In 1983, Yannick Noah defeated Mats Wilander of Sweden, the defending champion, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6. He was the last Frenchman to hoist the coveted Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Yannick Noah wins at Roland Garros. Photo: Jean-Yves Ruszniewski

Santoro, nicknamed “The Magician”, by Pete Sampras, because he played “magical shots” with two-handed dexterity throughout his 20 year professional career, knows, as the saying goes, “…of what he speaks.”

Coached by his father Marcel, he won the 1988 Roland Garros Junior Boys’ Singles but few in the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) believed he had any chance for success because of the two-handed way he played

Fabrice Santoro at Roland Garros a decade ago. Photo: ITF

As it turned out, Santoro won 30 career singles and doubles titles and was a member of the 1991 and 2001 winning Davis Cup teams.

Claiming the FFT has failed to develop talent, he told Reuters, “We’re at a low point. Since the end of the 1980s I can’t recall such a bad year. It’s not a question of chance. The FFT has the means to do a lot better. Some countries do better with 10 times less (money, infrastructure and opportunities). Something’s not right.”

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