The French Men—cool, hair, girls, fashion...but is it Grand Slam Swag??
Gael Monfils continued his comeback to the ATP World Tour with strong showings over the past few weeks.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga surrendered just six points on serve as he beat Andreas Seppi in 50 minutes to defend his crown at the Metz Open in France two weeks ago.
The two men have revived a flailing French tennis delegation over the past 5 years. Not only has their success on tour been a source of pride for the country, but so too has their off-court celebrity persona.
Perhaps they have both merely slipped into the spot of “part tennis player, part rock star” created over 25 years ago by Yannik Noah. Noah, the original cool French Man, forged a lifestyle straight from the pages of a Rock & Roll biography.
A former tennis star, he is best known for winning the French Open in 1983, and as an accomplished captain of France's Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams. In his retirement from tennis, Noah has retained is celebrity persona and has become a very popular music performer and as the President of a charity organization for underprivileged children. Noah is also the father of Joakim Noah of the NBA Chicago Bulls.
Yet, in between the accolades are the notorious stories of Noah in the 1980's—hotel partying, marijuana use, super model girlfriends and all the “bad boy” elements that seem to make a mere famous person, into a star.
Like Noah in his time, Tsonga and Monfils have become style icons in Europe, and both graced the pages of Vogue and other high profile fashion magazines. When he originally broke onto the scene, Monfils perhaps was more popular for his unique hairstyle, than his on-court victories.
Tennis fans knew him as the French guy with wild hair, probably a year before they even knew his name. However, watching Gael Monfils compete in just one match, there is no doubt that he is one of the most skilled athletes in the world.
Standing at 6'4, 26 year-old Monfils exudes the rare balance of confidence and charm that wins over both competitors and fans. Well liked by all the players, Monfils is the joker in the ATP locker rooms. It is his sense of humor and his ability to keep his cool in tight situations that often works to his advantage on court.
This cool, calm and collected demeanor is a skill that many of the best champions have, but coaches can't teach; either you have it or you don't—and both Monfils and Tsonga have proven to have plenty of it.
The 6'1 Jo-Wilfred Tsonga is a fan favorite around the world. From his signature celebration dance to his emotional displays on court, the Frenchman takes the crowd on a roller coaster ride with every match. With more physical strength than anyone in the Top 10, Tsonga resembles an NFL player more than a traditional tennis star.
The love lives of the tennis stars have also been well documented by the media. Monfils has dated both fellow French tennis hopeful Alize Cornet, as well as Top 20 player Dominika Cibulkova (the head-to-head between these two includes two long and hard-fought three-set wins for Cibulkova).
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s model girlfriend Charolette can often be seen sitting in the player’s box with Mom and Pop Tsonga. Yannick Noah is currently married to Isabelle Camus; he has been in four celebrity relationships and his previous three marriages have had an average length of—yep, you guessed it—0 years.
In 30 years, France has produced three men that stand-out amongst their tennis peers as not only being black in a sport that is still very white, but as celebrities, heart-throbs and rockstars. However, can the country expect any Grand Slam victories soon?
Tsonga made a run to the Final of the 2008 Australian Open, but lost convincingly to Novak Djokovic. However, on his way to that 2008 Final, he showed off some of his best tennis by demolishing Rafa Nadal in the Semifinals. Yet, neither Tsonga nor Monfils have made a Grand Slam Final since.
Although both men are extremely gifted athletes, skilled shot makers and amongst the best fighters on tour, their aggressive style of play causes both men to spend several weeks a year on the sideline with injures.
They also are playing in the most talented generation to date and striving to beat Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and/or Murray; this is a challenge that no one outside of the Top Four has achieved in years.
In 2013, look for Tsonga to make another run to a Grand Slam Final. Although the win is unlikely, Tsonga has been growing in confidence and his mental-game has been maturing with age. He lost a tight five-set match at Roland Garros in the Quaterfinals to Djokovic, but showed good signs that he soon will be ready to win those important match-ups.
Tsonga has three career wins over Federer and Nadal, and five wins over Djokovic. If he can put those victories together at a Grand Slam, he is a possible Finalist. With Nadal possibly sidelined with an injury and an over 30-year-old Federer, this may be the 27-year-old Frenchman's best opportunity.
As for Monfils, if his health continues to improve tennis fans can expect a season full of his usual brilliant shot making, and engaging personality. Although both Tsonga and Monfils are not yet Hall-of-Fame worthy, the tennis world can thank the French for bringing some much needed style, flair and “swagger” to the sport.