New Year Times has an article on the Frenchies, nothing new or too interesting, still, is nice of them to write a piece on them:
September 6, 2009
A Young French Quartet Is on the March at the Open
By JOSHUA ROBINSON
Away from the constant commotion of the United States Open, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga likes to spend his evenings at a kitschy French bistro in Midtown Manhattan called Tout Va Bien, French for all is well.
And with a spot booked in the third round of the Open, Tsonga can hardly complain about the way the tournament is going for him. Neither can some of his favorite dinner companions, Gaël Monfils, Gilles Simon and Josselin Ouanna. Monfils and Simon are in the third round, too.
The four make up perhaps the most talented crop of French players in a long time. All younger than 25, they are prompting chatter about the first Grand Slam title for a Frenchman since Yannick Noah won at Roland Garros in 1983.
“You have to go back to Noah, Henri Leconte and Thierry Tulasne in the 1980s for a generation like this one,” said Cédric Pioline, the former French No. 1, who is currently in charge of elite men’s development at the French Tennis Federation.
This generation has been a decade in the making. Tsonga, Monfils, Simon and Ouanna have known each other since they were youngsters who happened to hit a tennis ball that much harder and that much cleaner than most. And more than just encounter each other at junior tournaments all over France, they have roomed together while navigating the rigorous structure of French sporting academies.
“These guys, they’re like my brothers,” said Monfils, seeded 13th at the Open. “We’re all extremely close. It’s tough to describe what it is because we’ve just always known each other. It’s always been the way.”
Until the last few years, the French tennis scene had been distinctly devoid of stars. Sébastien Grosjean rose to No. 4 in the world and was a mainstay at Grand Slam events for the last decade, and Arnaud Clément peaked with an Australian Open final appearance in 2001.
But Tsonga and Monfils led the charge for French tennis’s strikingly quick youth movement. Monfils was the first of the four to break into the top 50 and qualified for the semifinals of the French Open last year. In January, Tsonga went one better, reaching the Australian Open final.
More than delivering results, they are doing it with entertaining tennis.
“Gaël and Jo have some serious charisma,” Ouanna said. “It’s a nice change. It’s like when Noah was playing and everyone knew his face.”
Monfils, with his teased hair, gregarious personality and captivating athleticism, is the consummate showman. At Roland Garros, he whipped up the crowd with a dance routine inspired by the rapper Soulja Boy. Off the court, he decorates his sneakers with rhinestones and gold marker, always signing them with his nickname, La Monf.
And after knocking off Andreas Beck in the Open’s second round on Friday, he paid homage to his hero Muhammad Ali by throwing four quick jabs at the baseline and finishing with an uppercut.
Then he paid homage to himself by tracing the bulge of his exposed biceps with his racket.
“I’m just being natural, being me,” Monfils said. “I love being in front of a crowd when it’s buzzing.”
Tsonga puts on a different kind of show — and he never dances. With sheer power and a rugby player’s build, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Tsonga brutalizes opponents, always wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He swaggers, he yells on the court, and with a wave of the arms, he turns up the volume wherever he plays.
“I actually like to kid around and laugh, and on the court I do like to put on a show,” said Tsonga, the seventh seed. “But I don’t have that actor side like Gaël.”
Simon, seeded ninth, is more reserved on the court and mutters to himself. Ouanna seems downright shy.
But even with their wide range of personalities, the four grew up as one another’s support network. In France, young athletes are selected early to leave home for what is known as a Sport Études programs, meant to develop elite athletes in all sports. So after long days split between the classroom and the practice courts, Monfils, Tsonga, Simon and Ouanna counted on one another to preserve some modicum of balance in their lives.
“We could hang out with each other like human beings, normal people who don’t play tennis all day,” Tsonga said.
Even so, Simon said, little was normal about the situation.
“We did whatever we could to make it as fun as possible, and none of us regrets our choices,” he said. “But in no way was it what teenagers are used to experiencing.”
For years, the four pushed each other to be better, without a trace of jealousy. Even as coaches who made careers dealing in broken dreams constantly reminded them that perhaps only one would make it to the big time, they kept driving forward, each at his own pace.
“We all stayed tight growing up, and I think that as each of us got better, we pulled the others,” Tsonga said. “Subconsciously, it was always about keeping up when one of us was playing well.”
Now on the professional tour, where each player travels with coaches, trainers, agents and hangers-on, they still stumble through the crowds of the Open to keep an eye on each other.
“If the top 100 could be entirely made up of my buddies,” Simon said, “it would be a lot more fun.”