NEW YORK (Reuters) - It was yet another mediocre grand slam campaign for the French at the U.S. Open, and federation president Bernard Giudicelli believes it is time that France, a country with a rich tennis history, changes the way it approaches the sport.
France has won nine Davis Cup titles, it is host of one of the four majors, but no Frenchman has won one since Yannick Noah in 1983.
The men have seven players in the top 50 of the ATP rankings and the women have four in the WTA rankings, yet none of them has come close to winning a grand slam recently.
“What is a successful grand slam? A successful grand slam is one you win,” Giudicelli, who was elected in February, told Reuters.
At the U.S. Open, only Lucas Pouille reached the fourth round, where he was beaten by unseeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman.
Giudicelli has a telling statistic.
“If I add all the grand slams played since the end of World War Two, three were won by French men and six by French women.
“It means that for the men, 99 percent of the time you enter a slam, and 98 for the women, you lose it.
“So it’s useless to discuss how the French perform. We say ‘Stop’. We stop being the losers and we set up a new model which is to say, ‘To be the best in the world I need to be the best at home and then move up from here and play tournaments outside our country from a younger age.
“Look at (Latvian Jelena Ostapenko). She came to play, and win, the TCBB (a tournament just outside Paris) when she was 12, and this year she won the French Open.”
Giudicelli appointed former giant-killer Thierry Champion as director of high-level tennis at the French federation in a bid to provide the best players with a reinforced structure.
“When a player reaches the top 100, they need to have their individual structure. It must become their own project, their own enterprise,” he said.
“Maybe in three years we’re going to win a slam. Maybe it’s just a cycle. But we should not think like that. We have to instil that winning culture (in) the players when they’re still kids.
“We have to take them under our wing as early as possible. They’ll be the best at 10, 12, then 14 and then on the tour.”
Richard Gasquet, once dubbed the Mozart of tennis, was a junior world number one but wasted his talent when he arrived on the main tour.
“He was on his own. Tennis is about rivalry, we need to develop a culture of rivalry,” said Giudicelli.
“We also need to play at the international level and let’s play against young players that we don’t know. Let’s stop just counting points.”
France have unique facilities at Roland Garros with dozens of state-of-the-art claycourts and Giudicelli believes they have been under-used.
“We must train on clay all year round. Clay is not just a surface that you train on to win the French Open. It’s a surface that helps you perform on any surface.
“Look at Rafael Nadal, Pablo Carreno Busta, in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open this year,” he said, insisting that federal coaches needed to be held accountable — “just like any employee who must deliver”.
(This story removes erroneous information about the last French woman to win a grand slam)
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neville Dalton