This Day in Sports History: Yannick Noah Wins the 1983 French Open

Christopher WoodleyContributor IIIJune 5, 2011

French tennis player Yannick Noah competes in the Men's Singles of the 1983 French Open. (Photo by Steve Powell/Getty Images)
Steve Powell/Getty Images

Who are some of the most famous Noah’s in history? Noah was the greatest ark builder the world had ever seen. Noah Webster gave us a dictionary, and Noah Wylie portrayed Dr. John Carter on the NBC series, ER.

In the world of sports, one Noah became a national hero with his victory at the 1983 French Open: Yannick Noah.

Born in Ardennes in Northeast France, Noah was the son of a soccer player from the African nation of Cameroon. He turned professional in 1977, but by the time of the 1983 French Open, few thought Noah would become the first Frenchman to win since Marcel Bernard in 1946. Heading into the open, the 23-year-old had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in any major.

At the 1981 French Open, the 11th-seeded Noah fell in four sets to Paraguay's Victor Pecci in the quarterfinals. Two years later as the sixth seed, he defeated four opponents, including Pecci, in straight sets. Noah’s quarterfinal opponent was third-seed Ivan Lendl, who went on to win three of four French Open titles between 1984 to 1987. But Noah was victorious in four sets, capped by a 6-0 fourth-set triumph.

Luck was also on Noah’s side. Playing to determine his opponent in the semifinals, countryman Christophe Roger-Vasselin, who was ranked 230th in the world, upset top-ranked Jimmy Connors in straight sets.

With the No. 1 seed out of the tournament, Noah advanced to his first major final with a convincing straight-set win over Roger-Vasselin. The match was so one-sided that Roger-Vasselin did not win a game in either of the final two sets.

The finals were set between Noah and defending champion and fifth seed Mats Wilander. Backed by the native crowd, the Frenchman won the first two sets before Wilander rallied to force a third-set tiebreaker. But as the Swede later said: “Yannick knew exactly what he needed to do.” He did just that by winning the tiebreaker to set off one of the biggest celebrations at Roland Garros.

The 1983 French Open was the only major singles title Noah won in his 19-year professional career; however, it was not his only title. Noah and countryman Henri Leconte won the 1984 French Open doubles title. He also earned runner-up finishes in doubles at the 1985 U.S. Open and in 1987 at Roland Garros.

In Davis Cup competition, Noah was 39-22 and helped France reach the finals in 1982. As a coach in 1991, he led France to their first Davis Cup title since 1932. He repeated the feat in 1996.

In his career, Noah won 476 singles matches with 23 career titles. He also won 213 doubles matches with 16 titles and earned a No. 1 ranking in 1986. Noah was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005.

Although Noah was still playing tennis, his music career began with the release of his album Black or What in 1991. After he retired, Noah continued his music career and performed throughout Europe. In the United States, he is perhaps best known as the father of Joakim Noah, a two-time NCAA basketball champion at Florida who currently plays for the Chicago Bulls.

He did not build an ark or create a dictionary. But mention the name Yannick Noah in France, and the citizens speak of him with pride.