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US Open 2021 – Unheard of since 1890: French tennis at the bottom of the Grand Slam abyss

It’s not really a surprise. It was even rather expected. Nobody claims to fall out of the closet, but if you start to get used to the observation, it is no less painful. Especially at this time of year, when the collective report card is no longer just that of the current tournament but of the whole season. For French tennis, it is historically bad.

Do you think we are exaggerating? Very well. Just remember this statistic: it’s the first time since 1890 (you read correctly) that no tricolor player has managed to qualify for the round of 16 of one of the Grand Slam tournaments. 2021, annus horribilis.

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There are two French people in the Top 30 in the ATP ranking. There is not a single Frenchwoman in the top 50 in the WTA rankings. Difficult in these conditions to expect miracles. Good surprises are always possible (for men, the last Frenchman in the round of 16 remains moreover… Hugo Gaston, at Roland-Garros, in the fall of 2020) but the overall level is today too low for the Tricolores can weigh on the debates.

Not a cyclical crisis

However, we could harbor some small hopes of presence in the second week at the US Open, especially among the boys, after the upturn seen in Gaël Monfils in recent years, or with Ugo Humbert, quarter-finalist at the Tokyo Games and winner at the beginning of the summer of his first ATP 500 in Halle. But the first found himself in a complicated picture, with Jannik Sinner from the 3rd round, when the second, on the contrary, did not know how to take advantage of a real good shot to play. And there is something to be angry about when you see that his opponent in the first round, Peter Gojowczyk, from qualifying, is now in the eighth.

A great show, a near-miracle but the end of the adventure for Monfils

But beyond the situational elements of each other on this or that Major, the problem is structural. The leaders are floundering or are at their wit’s end, and the next generation is still struggling to assert itself. The old would be too old and the young too young. All form a fragile whole, which is not able to compete with the best on the biggest stages.

Not so long ago, near-opulence…

It’s all the harder to swallow that not so long ago, in the absence of big blue, the indicators were far from being so dark. Three years ago, almost to the day, Caroline Garcia rose to 4th place in the world. The previous year, Kristina Mladenovic had also entered the Top 10. This career peak, reached at 24, augured something other than their common dive in recent seasons.

Among the men, in 2016, France set a record with no less than eleven players in the round of 16 in the aggregate of the four major meetings of the season. At the US Open, that same year, Gaël Monfils was in the semi-finals. Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters.

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The irreversible decline of the Monfils-Tsonga-Gasquet-Simon generation (the “youngest of them, Monfils, has just celebrated his 35th birthday) could have been mitigated by the emergence of new figures, but like he Lucas Pouille, whose career has been rotten for two years by injuries when he had shown certain promises, in particular in Grand Slam, the French NextGen has disappeared from the radar.

Humbert, maybe…

In the short term, a Ugo Humbert represents a source of hope. Because he’s still only 23. Because he showed that he was capable of producing high quality tennis, at least on fast surfaces. Because you don’t win your first three finals on the circuit without having a certain mental strength. Because he is well established in the Top 30 without winning a Grand Slam match or almost. If he starts to pass a few rounds in the Majors, not to mention perform miracles there, there is no reason that he should not continue to climb in the hierarchy.

But French tennis, especially on the men’s side, has probably finished for some time with a relative opulence which, failing to allow it to find a successor to Yannick Noah, has enabled it to ensure an almost constant presence at the very high level. There was a time, not so long ago, when some complained about the inability of a Tsonga (in particular) to go all the way. Today, a mere eighth would already serve as a good surprise. The times are changing. Quickly, and not for good.

A little tour and then goes (already): Humbert’s loss to Gojowczyk in pictures

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