Is it thanks to years of experience on the circuit or thanks to the new possibilities of an increasingly technological era? Probably a bit of both. Still, Gaël Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon had perhaps never revealed themselves as much as on Thursday during a meeting organized by the first quoted on his Twitch channel. During the last fifteen years, they have carried French tennis at arm’s length and yet they have been the subject of criticism that they have not always understood from the media. But far from being limited to these only misunderstandings, they also wanted to sweep the tennis news with frankness and a good dose of humor.
Moreover, Monfils launched hostilities on the first great burden carried by this generation, its nickname in reference to the golden age of French tennis embodied in the years 1920-1930 by Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra, René Lacoste and Jacques Brugnon. “We will say it, it really pisses us off that we are called the Four Musketeers“, he exclaimed. Simon’s response was quick, stinging:”They also called us the Fantastic Four, I found myself being the Thing and Ritchie the Invisible Woman, so even if it means having shitty nicknames, why not the Musketeers … “Shards of shared laughter, the tone was set.
In Grand Slam, a frustrating famine and a misunderstanding
But if the valves and the chambering were the order of the day, that did not prevent the four thieves from going to the bottom of things and from a form of incomprehension that they sometimes felt towards media. From the precocity of a Gasquet in 2005 to the later emergence of a Tsonga in 2008, the height of expectations has generated disproportionate disappointment over the lack of Grand Slam titles. A paradox perfectly summed up by Simon. “They are the strongest players, the closest to achieving this goal. (…) The speed at which it turns around when you finally don’t win it, like you’ve betrayed everyone, that doesn’t help.”
Each in turn, they felt the weight of the potential succession of Yannick Noah, the last French winner in Grand Slam and especially at Roland-Garros. And during their exchange, they did not fail to recognize their lack of opportunism on the rare occasions that they had to eat. As when Simon reminded Monfils of the match points obtained against Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the US Open in 2014. If he had converted one, the Parisian would have found himself facing Marin Cilic, the future winner, in semi final.
Between rare missed opportunities and the omnipotence of the Big 3
The Croatian was able to seize this chance and he is one of the few players to have been able to collect the crumbs left by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But this fact should not make us forget either what had to face the four tricolors who were together members of the Top 10. “We have the 3 best players of all time who have played the 15 years that we have played. It was not easy to be compared to them, we were 5th, 6th, 7th … We all pushed our tennis to the maximum of what we could do at a certain time, we do not have to be ashamed of what we did“, Tsonga said.
Gaël Monfils, Yannick Noah, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet in Davis Cup
France is one of the four countries to host a Major each season. And the expectations around this talented generation have been high to put an end to the famine on Parisian clay. But Monfils, semi-finalist (2008) like Tsonga (2013 and 2015) on the Porte d’Auteuil side, wanted to point out another truth: Nadal’s exceptional omnipotence on the surface. “Roger (Federer) and Djoko, tennis legends, they won it only once. This is completely crazy. We are far from being Roger and he only won it once (…). But it’s true that the only time he really had the opportunity to do so in 2009, he took it. And that’s strong. “
The Davis Cup was an opportunity to have fun normally and at no time did we take the pleasure we should have taken
And the accomplices did not stop there. They also mentioned the other big reproach made to their generation: the lack of success in Davis Cup. Here again, they did not shirk their responsibilities. If they were so rarely summoned all four together, with the exception of the 1st round against Canada in 2016, it is also “their fault” because not necessarily available or in good shape at the same time, like the Tsonga said. “I had extraordinary moments in the Davis Cup, I vibrated. But I went through very difficult things, super hard to take. I would find myself in my hotel room at night having palpitations and wondering what was happening to me. It was just a lot of pressure and hard things to deal with“, he continued.
On the subject, Simon was frank. “In general, I am very focused on the result as you said Jo, but precisely, the Davis Cup, it was the occasion to have fun normally. At no time did we take the pleasure we should have taken. (…) When I went to Davis Cup, I told myself that it would be great with my friends, that it would be a team match, even with the pressure. I thought we were going to have a good laugh, and in fact, we weren’t laughing. Overall, the heaviness of the stuff, the setting, the surroundings, etc., meant that you were far from taking the pleasure that you thought you were taking. I was going home, and even though we won, I thought it was disappointing and I couldn’t get out of it. “
Overall agree with Simon on the vision of the Davis Cup as a missed opportunity, the cronies were however not stingy in anecdotes on the subject. Like the eventful one of Gaël Monfils’ first selection. “It went really badly! There was Mika (Llodra), PHM (Paul-Henri Mathieu), Grosjean, Clément. I was very young so generation conflict! We do the internship. I know the guys and I feel like they didn’t want to know me. (…) We fought with Mika. I said to him: ‘If you put me a calbote, I will put one for you.’ He wanted to play, he put me a calbote in full official dinner. You know me, 18, hot as embers, I went straight“, he recalled, laughing. Since then, relations have obviously warmed up.
Gaston and the new generation? It’s important that we support them, that we save them time
This incomprehension also between old and young allowed the four accomplices to evoke the new generation of French players embodied in particular by Hugo Gaston, 20 years old and eighth-to-finalist at Roland Garros after beating Stan Wawrinka and competing with Dominic Thiem. Aware of the difficult legacy to assume in terms of results, they are aware of the role they have to play alongside them. “It is important that we support them. When we were young, I’m not sure we had the support of everyone in the Federation, from the former players as well. I felt a little distrust. We need to save them time“, thus committed Richard Gasquet.
Simon also recalled the requirement scale which will undoubtedly be modified in the future, as the French density in the Top 100 is less compared to ten years ago. “Gaston (currently 162nd in the world, Editor’s note) is an eighth for Roland. And we almost have the impression that in the media impact, it’s as much as Jo when he made the final in Australia leaving Nadal. It reflects a small (generational) gap. The luck they (with Corentin Moutet or Ugo Humbert in particular) have is that they will not have the three best players of all time against them. “
Between well-launched spades and a sacred self-derision on their current form as when Gasquet relativized his two victories since the recovery in comparison to the blank record of Monfils – “I beat Karlovic who is 63 years old (41 years old in fact, Editor’s note), he plays well anyway, I did not look good“, he exclaimed -, the accomplices prolonged the discussion, after the departures of Simon and Tsonga, replaced by a Benoît Paire also in shape. A beautiful moment of sharing, sincerity and laughter. In these times. difficult, we want more.