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Here's Part I
NOAH-TSONGA, THE FALSE TWINS
Comparison between the 1983 Roland Garros champion and the 2008 Australian Open finalist who possess two different temperaments beyond the norm:
10 days ago at Marseille, Tsonga declared that he wanted to top the awards’ list of French players of the modern era. This week, although he’s classed No. 3 national player as per the ATP rankings, he will lead the Davis Cup team. There are inevitable comparisons with Yannick Noah, the first mixed-race champion and French tennis emblem for the past 30 years (his first victory was in 1978).
To make hasty comparisons would be erroneous. “Jo is not Yann, Jo is Jo” asserts his coach, Éric Winogradsky. He is right.
The following individuals, who knew Yannick intimately as a player and who are also now in contact with Jo were consulted:
-Patrice Beust, first coach of Noah when he took tennis studies in Nice in 1970’s
-Patrice Hagelauer, his coach throughout most of his career;
-Henri Leconte, Thierry Tulasne, Guy Forget – his “little brothers” but back then, his rivals;
-Cédric Pioline, who knew him mostly as Captain;
- Éric Winogradsky, fellow player of Noah and nowadays Tsonga’s coach.
Their verdict is clear: between the Tsonga of today and the Noah of 23 years ago, there are many points in common, but just as many differences.
THE ORIGINS – FORMATION
Biggest point in common lies in their origins:
-both are born of mixed-race couples;
-French mother, African father: Zacharie Noah is Camerounian, Didier Tsonga is Congolese, both came to France for the sport;
-Zacharie Noah played in the great Sedan team that was victorious in the French Cup in 1961. Didier Tsonga was an international handballer who later pursued higher studies;
-The sports fibre runs in both families. Enzo, Tsonga’s brother plays basketball in Pro A. Joakim, Noah’s son, plays for the NBA;
-both were born in a town of provincial France: Noah on 16 Mai 1960 in Sedan; Tsonga on 17 April 1985 at Le Mans almost two years after Noah won at Roland Garros;
-both moved up through the FFT: high school of tennis studies, training at federal level, personal coach granted by the federation. Noah left the cocoon of the federation after winning his grand slam. At 23 years, Tsonga stays with FFT.
Biggest difference is in their itineraries:
-Tsonga has never left France. He learned to play tennis at Coulaines, in his club in the suburbs of Le Mans, and at 13 years, made a gradual transition to the tennis high school.
-Noah, aged 3 years, left for Yaoundé (Cameroon) with his parents. He thus spent his early childhood with his paternal grandfather. It was in Africa that Arthur Ashe discovered him whilst playing an exhibition tournament. At 12 years, he left his family to study tennis in Nice.
-Tsonga only went to Conga for the first time 11 months ago. “Yannick has stronger roots in Africa” says Éric Winogradsky. “Jo made the acquaintance of his grandfather only last year.”