Here's an article from Tennis Week (an American? magazine about tennis) that i found on Rg.net but it was taken from another board apparently.
Anyway it's an interesting read. It has the great quality of explaining many things about the French development program (even if there are some false stuff and some things missed...) and of already be in English! That way we won't need to explain everything and moreover in English which is even more difficult!
Some corrections will be enough.
They don't speak enough about it's many defaults/weak points. They try to make it look like some kind of very selective, paternalistic thing. They caricaturate a lot but otherwise that article is ok.
Throughout this year, Tennis Week is examining the player development efforts of various countries worldwide, including those with a long history of great players and those hoping to establish a tradition that future generations will admire and uphold. This is the fourth installment in the series.
The French have player development down to a system that can’t be beat
By Whit Sheppard
Tennis Week print magazine
May 24, 2005
Perhaps it’s only fitting that, in a nation that reveres engineering acumen (think the TGV high-speed train, the Eiffel Tower, Airbus’ new twin-deck A380 plane) as much as the cultivation of things that contribute to la joie de vivre (think the 35-hour work week, up to 500 different kinds of cheese, some of the world’s best wine and foie gras), the French tennis development program is a highly-structured, carefully-plotted system that continues to give France an influence in the tennis world beyond the sum of its various parts.
In a nation of nearly 60 million inhabitants, one without a native-born Grand Slam champion since Yannick Noah beat Sweden’s Mats Wilander to capture Roland Garros in 1983 (2000 Roland Garros winner and naturalized Frenchwoman Mary Pierce was born in Montreal), the French system of identifying, training, and supporting junior players from age 7 onward continues to deliver results envied by all but a few tennis-playing nations.
In the ATP’s latest Indesit Entry Rankings (as of May 9), 10 French players were in the Top 100, lead by former Top 10 player Sebastien Grosjean at No. 27. Only Spain, with 15 players in the Top 100, and Argentina, also with 10, can claim equivalent or greater depth on the men’s side. The United States, with a population five times greater than France, currently sports seven of the world’s Top 100 men, led by third-ranked Andy Roddick.
Add to the mix for France three Davis Cup titles since 1991 and two more appearances in the Davis Cup finals, and you get a sense of the efficacy of the French development program on the men’s side.
The French women have fared almost as well, with eight Top 100 players in the latest Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings, including three in the Top 20 (No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 16 Nathalie Dechy, and No. 19 Tatiana Golovin) and two Fed Cup titles and a runner-up trophy since 1997.
The seat of power in French tennis is situated a stone’s throw from Court Centrale at Roland Garros in leafy western Paris, in the offices of the Federation Francaise de Tennis (FFT), the Gallic equivalent of the United States Tennis Association. The 20-acre site also houses the CNE, or National Training Center, where the most promising French juniors are trained, housed, and funded by the federation.
Among current French tour players, Grosjean (who was shown the door by the federation at one point because of his lack of height), Dechy, Mauresmo,rising player Gael Monfils, Nicolas Escude, Fabrice Santoro, Michael Llodra and Emilie Loit are alums of the FFT’s development regime. Players such as Richard Gasquet, Paul-Henri Mathieu, and Nathalie Tauziat have also benefited to some degree from the federation’s support.
The continued success of the French in international team competition begs two important questions: To what do the French owe their great success in Davis Cup and Fed Cup, and why have they so far not been able to achieve equivalent success in Grand Slam singles play?
Eric Deblicker, longtime director of the high-level French men’s development program and, since September 2004, Gasquet’s full-time coach, has this to say about the disparity between team and individual results among the French players:
“Davis Cup is very important in France and has been ever since we beat the Americans in Lyon in 1991,” says Deblicker, emphasizing recent history, without the intent of ignoring the Davis Cup success of the Four Musketeers, whose 1927 triumph against the United States inspired the construction of Roland Garros. “The spirit of the team is the major factor. It’s a priority for French players to play for France. With Davis Cup, our players don’t play tournaments the week before, as the team gathers to train and eat together straight through the tie. They’re very happy to work together and everyone is behind the captain (former Top 10 player Guy Forget).”
As for producing another French Grand Slam tournament winner, Deblicker says, “We are trying to fix this challenge for our young players like Mathieu, Gasquet, and Monfils. We have to instill this mentality in them and our first priority is to win at Roland Garros, as it’s our home court.”
Ironically, it has been the emergence in recent years of Roland Garros on the world tennis stage, from an afterthought behind the US Open and Wimbledon to a must-watch, must-visit Grand Slam event, that has helped fill the FFT’s coffers with the vital cash that helps fund the development of French junior players. The tournament generates an estimated $35 million to $40 million per year.
Former French tour player Georges Goven, who heads the federation’s high-level women’s development program, remembers when times were different. “The money that comes in from Roland Garros is key,” says Goven. “With it, we can afford to put very capable people in the right places in France.
“Forty years ago we had only five or six people paid and working full-time for the federation,” Goven adds, crediting former FFT and ITF President Philippe Chatrier, for whom Court Central was renamed in 2001, as the originator of the development program in the early ’70s. “Now we’re more like a mid-sized business, with around 300 people on the payroll.”
The road to a coveted place at the CNE or INSEP, the National Institute of Sport and Physical Education, where the most talented 16- to 18-year-old boys train before coming over to the CNE at age 19, is an arduous one that somewhat mimics the French higher education system. In that crucible, pools of thousands of prospective students are whittled down through a series of concours nationaux, or nationwide entry exams, to gain entrance to France’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Entering classes of 100-400 are the norm at these specialized Grandes Ecoles, which out-Ivy the Ivies with their stringent selection process.
The tennis version of this paper chase typically begins at age 7, when each of France’s 2,500 or so tennis clubs are encouraged to select two or three gifted players ages 7-10 and provide them with special group and individual instruction. Anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 players make this first cut-off and enter the national system.
The next step is to winnow this group down to the 160 or so players (girls 10-12 and boys 11-13) who are regionally selected to make it to the next level, the Avenir National, by coaches empowered and monitored by the FFT in Paris. The objective at this stage is to continue the players’ formation while identifying which players will move forward under the auspices of the federation to the penultimate level in the system, Les Poles France.
Next, only 12-16 of the most promising girls (ages 13-15) are chosen to continue their training at either the CNE in Paris or a similar center in Toulouse, in the southwest of France. A total of roughly 30 junior boys (ages 14-15) go through equivalent training at one of three regional centers.
Only after having passed through these three preliminary stages to the most promising French juniors get their tickets punched for the high-level training in the Groupes Espoirs at INSEP or the National Training Center (CNE).
Casting a glance at the progression of current French tour players through the national development system, three of the four native-born French players to have reached a Grand Slam tournament final since Henri Leconte did so in 1988 at Roland Garros – Arnaud Clement (2001 Australian Open), Cedric Pioline (1993 US Open, 1997 Wimbledon), and Nathalie Tauziat (1998 Wimbledon) – accomplished their success largely independent of the FFT’s development program. (The fourth, Mauresmo, was runner-up at the 1999 Australian Open).
Gasquet, named ITF World Junior Champion in 2002 after winning the French and US Open junior titles, is a good example of the buffet approach to the development offered by the FFT. Originally coached by his father, a teaching pro, Gasquet entered the system at the Groupes Espoirs level in 2002. He spent one year training at the CNE at Roland Garros before receiving private coaching, subsidized by the federation for another year, for a total of two years in the program.
Developing patience from the baseline has reaped dividends in 2005 for the 18-year-old Frenchman, whose ranking has climbed to No. 56 after winning two consecutive clay court challengers in Italy before bouncing world No. 1 Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of the recent ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo.
“We’ve never had a player so young and so talented at 12, 13 years old (as Gasquet),” says outgoing National Technical Director Jean-Claude Massias, who, after a nine-year run as the FFT’s national technical director, is ceding his place to Patrice Dominguez. “He was truly better than all the others there. But he lost a couple of years. There was a lot of pressure on him, his father protected him a lot and he didn’t do what was necessary with the physical plan or train as much as we advised him to.
“I’m not surprised at his recent results,” Massias continues, “but we were quite worried a year or so ago, has he was not progressing well, was defaulting matches and looked unhappy on the court. Having great talent doesn’t always ensure that a player becomes a great player and we were worried about Richard.”
It wasn’t until Gasquet began working intensively with Deblicker, with whom he initially came into contact while training at the CNE, that his results began to approximate his considerable talent.
Says Massias, “I’m only surprised that it (Gasquet’s strong results) happened so soon after starting to work with Eric [Deblicker].”
Adds Deblicker, “Richard was like a lot of very talented players. He wanted to finish points after two or three shots. But he was playing the wrong way. We’ve worked with him on extending rallies until he has better positioned himself to go for a winner.”
The shy Gasquet, who speaks with a bit of a stammer and can’t be described as an eager media subject, has even learned to handle off-court notoriety and show a sense of humor as well. Appearing recently on a French chat show, one of Gasquet’s fellow guests was a noted porn actress. He said afterward, “It was a bit embarrassing. I’d never met anyone who did that job before.”
Monfils, 18, has seen his star on the ascension after compiling at 31-2 match record and winning three of the four 2004 junior Slam tournaments (Australian Open, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon). With a current ranking of 81, the lanky all-courter has delivered similiarly impressive results on the men’s tour in 2005, opening the year with a win over defending Roland Garros champion and world No. 6 Gaston Gaudio in Qatar, advancing with a wildcard to the round of 16 at the NASDAQ-100 Open in Miami and beating crafty French veteran Fabrice Santoro to win his first title on the men’s circuit in early May at a challenger event on clay in Tunisia.
Monfils was identified as a player of promise at age 11 and passed successively through all levels of the national development system with the exception of the final rung of the ladder, Les Groupes Espoirs. The FFT, in fact, encouraged him to skip the last step, deeming him ready for the big time and matching him up with former pro Thierry Champion as his coach.
The success of the French program ensures that the pipeline continues churning out another generation of talented French players after Gasquet, Monfils, and 19th-ranked women’s player Golovin, who teamed with Gasquet to win the mixed doubles at Roland Garros last year. Male contenders include hard-serving Jo-Wilifred Tsonga, the 2003 US Open boy’s singles champion and the world’s No. 2 junior that year; Gilles Simon, a 20-year-old ranked just outside the Top 100 who finished 2004 with a string of French futures wins; and Josselin Ouanna, who was runner-up to Monfils in the 2004 Australian Open boy’s singles. On the women’s side, 14-year-old Gracia Radovanovic, runner-up this year in the prestigious Les Petits As tournament, and 18-year-old Aravane Rezai, who has won three women’s circuit events since last October, are two players who bear watching.
With a solid organization, a war chest of cash and continued popularity of tennis in France (second only to soccer in the number of participants nationwide), the French tennis development system shows no signs of slowing down. It seems almost as inevitable as another bumper crop of Burgandy or Beaujolais that French players will continue to flourish on the world stage and one day break through to give L’Héxagone the Grand Slam champion to succeed Noah that it so craves.
Whit Sheppard is a Paris-based sportswriter. He has written for the Houston Chronice, the Tampa Tribune, and the Buenos Aires Herald, among others. This is his first entry for Tennis Week.