Bill Tilden On The French Players

The French style of play commends itself to me very highly. I enjoy watching the well-executed strokes, beautiful mobile footwork of these dashing players. It is more a lack of dogged determination to win, than in any stroke fault that one finds the reason for French defeats. The temperamental genius of this great people carries with it a lack of stability that can be the only explanation for the sudden crushing and unexpected defeats their representatives receive on the tennis courts. I was particularly impressed during my visit to France by the large numbers of children playing tennis and the style of game displayed. The sport shows a healthy increase and should produce some fine players within the next ten years. Keen competition is the corrective measure for temperamental instability and with the advent of many new players in French tennis I would not be surprised to see a marked decrease of unexpected defeats of their leading players.

by William Tilden (The Art of Lawn Tennis)

Big Bill might have been way ahead of his time with these observations. No French-born player has won a major since … Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon. As for men… I can’t even remember. Was it all the way back to the Four Musketeers and Henri Cochet at 1929 Roland Garros?

A few have come close. Arnaud Clement. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Cedric Pioline. Henri Leconte. Yannick Noah doesn’t count because he was born in Cameroon.

France has thrived in Davis Cup though, winning the Cup last year for the tenth time since 1904, and once again reaching the final in 2018, to be contested with Croatia in December.

The current French Davis Cup team consists of:
Adrian Mannarino (First Round, Singles)
Richard Gasquet (First Round Singles)
Nicolas Mahut (First Round, Quaterfinals, Semifinals Doubles)
Pierre-Hugues Herbert (First Round, Quaterfinals Doubles)
Lucas Pouille (Quaterfinals, Semifinals Singles)
Jeremy Chardy (Quaterfinals, Singles)
Benoรฎt Paire (Semifinals, Singles)
Julien Benneteau (Semifinals, Doubles)


  • Hartt · September 25, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Well, plus รงa change . . . . But I don’t agree that Yannick Noah doesn’t count. As a French citizen who played for France, he was a French player. And beyond that, he was born in France and his mother was French. His father took the family to his native Cameroon, but Noah was discovered by Arthur Ashe and Charlie Pasarell when he was 11 and then started training at the French federation’s training facility in Nice, so his development as a player was largely under the French system.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 25, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Impressive, Hartt, how much you know about Noah, who was one of my favorite players and guys. I remember interviewing him once and what a nice guy, didn’t put on any airs at all.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 26, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Forgot that part that Noah was born in France, thought he was some kid in Cameroon with freakish athletic talent. Wonder if Noah actually started playing tennis in France first before moving with his dad to Cameroon?

  • catherine · September 26, 2018 at 9:31 am

    If Noah was 11 when he was discovered in Cameroon he would have been quite young when he started to play in France. But it’s possible because he had a pretty formed game when he was spotted.

    Ashe and co went to West Africa as part of a US State Department visit, accompanied by (who else ?) Richard Evans who wrote about the trip in World Tennis and that’s where I first saw mention of Yannick’s name.

    He was generally open for interviews, we did one in our magazine when he came over for an ATP tournament which used to be held at Wembley. Things were more relaxed then. And Yannick was always keen to chat with attractive female journalists who could speak French – luckily we had a suitable freelance available ๐Ÿ™‚

    As a player I think he peaked in his mid-twenties or thereabouts. He lacked a really killing shot, is my recollection. Saw him play at USO a couple of times.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 26, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Catherine, nice to hear you had a brief dalliance with Noah ๐Ÿ™‚ We don’t need any more details but Duke Carnoustie probably knows them ๐Ÿ™‚ Noah could have started tennis very young like Agassi swatting balloons in his crib and Fish starting at age two.

  • catherine · September 26, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Scoop – you’re joking I assume ! To start with I don’t speak French much further than ‘la plume de ma tante’ and that wouldn’t have got me far with Noah ๐Ÿ™‚

    No, we had a great freelance contributor who was a tennis fan so we wheeled her out sometimes. She once had to flee the clutches of Wojtek Fibak, successfully I might add.

    Rory McIlroy had a plastic golf club in his pram I read, so starting young’s not limited to tennis.

  • Doug Day · September 26, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Any theories why with all their coaching and talent the French cronicly lack titles? Simon showed a consistancy i mistook for toughness 10yrs ago. I mean titles arent everything but, sheesh.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 26, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Yes of course I’m joking but we will have to wait for Duke to clear things up ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d like to hear more about Fibak, word is he was a very aggressive guy with the ladies and in some cases illegally over aggressive.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 26, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Doug, the French players prefer style over substance maybe. Just that fraction amount that costs them the big titles. Play on their own terms. Some like Gasquet just aren’t mentally tough enough or hunger for it enough. I think complacence is an issue with French players too, they seem content with QF or SF or majors. Pioline seemed to have the drive but he had the misfortune of running into Sampras in his two major finals, losing each in straight sets.

  • Doug Day · September 27, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Wow, lI forgot Pioline came that close. Tilden names it genuis with all the instability stilll evident today. I mean do Simon or Paire ever look hurried? Magician Mannarino moves and even dresses like the top 20’s his pajama party.I guess they wouldnt be as watchable with more grit & grind. Perhaps Lucas the (half-Finn) Pouille can get some dumb reindeer luck.



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