Success seems to come in waves for France when it comes to producing successful male professionals. From the "Four Musketeers" in the early part of the 20th century to 1980's and '90's stars Yannick Noah, Henri Leconte and Guy Forget. Currently, the nation is making its presence felt on the rankings with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet, all of whom have spent time in the top 10.
However, the big question is, will one of them ever win a Grand Slam title, becoming the first Frenchman since Noah to do so?
Between them, Tsonga, Monfils, Simon and Gasquet have notched wins against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the greatest players of their generation. They've also had success at the Grand Slam level, with three of them—Tsonga, Monfils and Gasquet—having made the final four at one of the premier events. However, Tsonga is the only one to have finished runner-up at a major: the Australian Open in 2008.
It's been nearly 30 years since Noah's surprise win at his home event, the French Open. In the process, he became a national hero as he also put an end to a drought (37 years) of Frenchmen winning one of the game's grandest prizes.
The current crop of stars still have a little bit of time before reaching that mark, but perhaps what has been most perplexing is the talent level the country has generated. From 2001 to 2006, Sebastien Grosjean made four major semifinals and five quarterfinals. Arnaud Clement shocked the tennis world when he advanced to the Australian Open finals in 2001. That's nothing to say of players that preceded them, such as '88 French Open runner-up Leconte, or current Davis Cup captain Forget, who was once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world but never made a Grand Slam semifinal.
Among the four Frenchman sitting in the top 20 today, Tsonga is probably pegged as the best chance to bring a major title to the country. The second half of 2011 was one to remember for the 26-year-old, as he made the semifinals of Wimbledon, the quarters at the U.S. Open and finished runner-up at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Monfils also put together a solid season. However, his lack of aggressive play is reflected in his career win-loss record in finals (4-11). He's also battled a number of injuries, keeping him off the court for significant stretches.
Simon has had his share of injuries, too, but when he's healthy, he's shown what he's capable of. He lifted his ranking back into the top 15 this year after dropping to the 40s.
Probably the biggest questions surround Gasquet, long-heralded as one of the most talented players on Tour. When focused, he's a threat to anyone, but when he's lacking in the concentration department, he can be beaten by anyone.
Granted, these four are playing in one of the toughest eras in tennis history. Still though, they're all in the prime of their careers and should be able to count themselves among the major-title contenders. Will it be next season? Each has the ability to win, it's just a matter of ensuring they're up for the challenge.
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