Tennis: Will 2012 Be the Year That a French Player Wins a Grand Slam?
For the past 28 years, French tennis fans have waited, waited and waited.
Since Yannick Noah lifted the Roland Garros trophy in June of 1983, no Frenchman has won a single Grand Slam title in men's singles.
However, the recent contingent would present "Les Tricolore" with its best chance yet—if not for the fantastic era in which they play.
Consider: In order to capture a title, any player outside the top four must beat two or three top four players in a row!
The group of talent coming from France is astonishing. Among the top 15 players in the world, four of them represent France.
Currently, the French superstar is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, an overpowering player with a delightful touch around the net. Jo-Willy has had a true breakout season in 2011, making deep runs at both Wimbledon and the US Open, as well as capturing a title last week in Metz.
In 2008, Tsonga made a run to the finals of the Australian Open, where he lost a hard-fought four-setter to Novak Djokovic. His successful play rose his ranking to World No. 6, and many considered him to be a top player for years to come.
However, injuries hindered his progress, and by early 2011 he found himself back outside the top 20. Reports of him not training hard enough led many to believe that he would never be more than a one-slam wonder.
At Wimbledon this past summer, fans were greeted by a new Tsonga. Known as "Hercule" by many French fans, he added quickness and touch to his already powerful game.
Will a French Tennis player win a major in 2012?
His biggest weakness, stamina, turned into a strength. He proved this in the biggest of ways.
Down a couple of sets to World No. 3—and arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, Roger Federer—Tsonga mounted a furious comeback, which resulted in the Frenchman becoming the only player ever to come back from two sets down to beat Roger in a Grand Slam match. He went on to lose a highly entertaining four-setter to Djokovic in the semis.
He made another case about his endless energy at the next major, the US Open. He battled a fellow man who had recently become a fitness freak, American Mardy Fish.
Down two sets to one, Tsonga still had plenty of energy left. He outplayed Fish for the next two sets, and came out victorious on a windy day in Flushing Meadows.
This man presents the best chance at a major, as he has beaten Nadal and Federer this season, and in the past has had Djokovic's number, although the Serb did turn the tables this season. Maybe if a top-four player loses early, Tsonga can make another long run.
The issue that remains is a mental issue. Tsonga gets very sloppy and cracks on big points. After his win over Fish in the USO, he crumbled against Federer, unable to keep three balls in between the lines.
The rest of the group includes players with a multitude of strengths and weaknesses, but, in truth, only one of them has the capacity to win a major.
Who gives France the best chance at a major?
That man is Gael Monfils—the charismatic, athletic 2008 French Open semifinalist.
Monfils is best known for diving to get balls—and then getting them back—and then winning the point.
He too has had issues with training off the court. Not too long ago, Monfils was the world's top-ranked junior, cruising to wins at the junior Grand Slams.
As a pro, he has also been a victim of injuries, and has never quite found the winning formula against top players.
It seems as if all he wants to do is have fun and entertain the crowd, and that he just isn't that interested in winning. His bad off-court habits have him missing more and more time where he could be playing.
The other highly ranked French players that could compete are Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet.
Simon will never be able to take home a major because his game plan is to push everything back and let his opponent miss—something that would never work against a Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.
Gasquet is a wild card—born with tons of talent—but he can never seem to break through. He has a fabulous game, but he will never be consistent enough to win seven matches against the worlds' best.
In the end, French tennis has to wait a little longer.
The top of the top this year is too strong for the players for France to overcome, and until Tsonga fixes the mental aspect of his game, he will not be able to win.
Monfils is too injury-prone, and until he gets more serious about his play, he will be no more than an on-and-off talent.
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