Monfils, Humbert, Paire, Gaston … Between hopes and frustrations, the year 2020 of the Blues under the microscope

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Monfils, the emotional elevator

He is the last Frenchman to have set foot on London’s O2 Arena in 2016. And if this season had gone without a hitch, wouldn’t there have been his place? There is nothing absurd about the hypothesis, as its start-up had met expectations. Logically beaten by Dominic Thiem in the round of 16 in Melbourne, Gaël Monfils had rebounded in February and in what way: two titles in quick succession in Montpellier and Rotterdam – he had never been crowned more than once in a season -, a Homeric semi-final in Dubai where he had believed to bring down Novak Djokovic for the first time in his career (3 match points obtained) and a provisional 3rd place in the Race (ranking since January 1). What to approach the rest with an unprecedented confidence for him.

Yes but here it is, the coronavirus has been there. And “La Monf ‘” saw its momentum cut off. The Race abolished, he lost the lead he had taken over his competitors for London. And if the reform of the ATP ranking allowed him to ignore the American tour without losing points when the circuit resumed in August, he never knew how to restart the machine. Winner of 16 of his first 19 matches in 2020, he has not experienced the slightest success in four attempts (Rome, Hamburg, Roland Garros and Vienna). Passed from dream to nightmare in the space of six months, he preferred to stop the costs before Bercy, looking for no excuse, other than the observation of his inability to tame the new playing conditions (health bubble, reduced public or closed door ). Still 11th in the world, however, he hopes to get off on the right foot in 2021.

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It’s arguably the best blue since tennis regained its rights this summer. In the ambient gloom, Ugo Humbert brought a precious ray of sunshine. His last tournament of the year was the dazzling demonstration of this: in a Rolex Paris Masters very sad because deprived of spectators, he was enthusiastic about his offensive choices and a facet that was little known to him, that of the warrior with remarkable cold blood. in knife duels, coming close to a first semi-final in Masters 1000. Strong head, he hung many names on his hunting roster, Daniil Medvedev in Hamburg and Stéfanos Tsitsipas in Bercy can attest to this.

2020 is all the more a milestone for him as this season, although cut in half, will have been that of his first title on the ATP circuit in Auckland for his first tournament (after the Bendigo Challenger) . Le Messin even doubled the stake at the end of the year in Antwerp. Between this departure with fanfare and this conclusion on the hats of wheel, he showed an unprecedented consistency on the French side. Semifinalist also at Delray Beach, he was especially noted for his astonishing progress on clay in Rome and Hamburg. Homogeneous results which would have earned him a place in the Top 20 for the Race if it had been maintained. It was in the Grand Slam that he nevertheless sinned (released in the 1st round in Melbourne and Roland, in the 2nd in Flushing), but if he progresses physically in the offseason as he planned, the prospects will be interesting. in 2021.

… Mannarino and Moutet maintain theirs

Other lefties have done French tennis good. If he did not know the progression of a Humbert, Corentin Moutet started 2020 on the momentum of his great breakthrough of 2019. In Doha, he thus offered his first final on the circuit coming out of qualifying: Milos Raonic, Fernando Verdasco or Stan Wawrinka had then fallen under his blows. The cut did not seem to disturb him more than that since he can also boast of having reached the 3rd round at the US Open, best result in the Grand Slam matched. But he did not really recover from his lost marathon against the modest Lorenzo Giustino in the 1st round of Roland-Garros (2nd longest match in the history of the tournament in 6:05 hours of play) and saw his Rolex Paris Masters spoiled. with a positive coronavirus test.

With Moutet, Adrian Mannarino had saved the honor of the tricolor clan in Flushing Meadows, only beaten by the future finalist of this US Open behind closed doors, Alexander Zverev. The German will have blocked his way on two other occasions at the end of the season: in the quarterfinals in Cologne and in the eighth in Bercy. Each time, he nevertheless put the world number 7 in difficulty, so much so that the person concerned paid him an unexpected tribute after his final lost at the Accor Arena. If he had missed his start to the season, Manna has managed the new context much better than many of his compatriots, his 10th career final in Kazakhstan proved it. In contention in Sofia, he is still fighting for a seeded place in Melbourne in January.

The Gaston revelation

He is the unlikely tricolor hero of the year. “Hero”, the term is emphatic, but on purpose. Ugo Gaston shone, for the general public, only for the space of a tournament, but it was the good one: at Roland-Garros where many eyes, even sometimes foreign to the world of tennis, are fixed on the Porte d ‘Auteuil. He was the great animator of a 2020 edition postponed to the fall which had however almost turned into a fiasco for the French. In the Open era, there had always been at least one Blue in the 3rd round of the men’s singles, and it was he, then 239th in the world and invited by the organization, who extended at least one more year this statistical truth.

In wet, heavy and slow conditions on the Parisian clay, he amazed at the variety of his tennis and the extent of his tactical options. His tennis, all in changes of pace, his mastery of cushioning and his touch of the ball made Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem mad. Winner of the first in five sets and beaten by the second over the same distance in the round of 16, Gaston’s Parisian course had something in it of the biblical myth of David against Goliath. At 20, he suddenly took the light and breathed a breath of fresh air. Now the hardest part is coming for him: returning to the Challengers and confirming to reach the Top 100, his next goal. And thus enter directly into the Grand Slam tables.

Paire, lost in translation

In 2019, Benoît Paire had returned to his best level, winning the 2nd and 3rd titles of his career in Marrakech and Lyon on clay. Finalist in Auckland in early January, he seemed to approach 2020 in the same way. A frustrating defeat after five sets in the second round of the Australian Open against Marin Cilic followed. And then… nothing. Or almost. Like a Monfils, the Avignon resident got lost after confinement. In his defense, there is no lack of mitigating circumstances. Positive for the coronavirus in Flushing Meadows, the management of his case and his contacts has been inconsistent to say the least. Cloistered in his hotel room, deprived of training, there is a compromise on a possible return to form.

And his troubles continued in Germany in Hamburg where a second positive test (probably due to residues of the virus in his body) forced him to a new quarantine. Psychologically worn out, affected by the virtual absence of an audience when he was able to be on the court, Paire only had an illusion during the first round of Roland Garros which he won. Remains the memory of his famous moments of conviviality during which the two friends had a good laugh but also spoke tennis without language. Comforting sessions that fans of the little yellow ball, deprived of their passion, will not forget. A corner of blue sky in a very gloomy season. We will not change Benoît Paire, for the worse, but also for the better.

Simon, Gasquet and Herbert lacked rhythm

The generation of “new Musketeers” (as they hate to be called) is inevitably drawing nearer to the end. If Gaël Monfils is resisting, still flirting with the Top 10, for Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet, the feelings are less good. With 10 victories for 11 defeats, the native of Nice thus lived a 2020 exercise without much relief, with the exception of a semi-final in Montpellier. At almost 36 years old, his qualities as a marathon runner are failing him more and more, even if this fall, he did good things indoors, especially in Cologne where he beat Denis Shapovalov before falling with the honors against Jannik Sinner.

For the Biterrois, the season was even more complicated. Already because he could not start it before the month of February in Montpellier and he was quickly stopped by the suspension of the circuit due to the coronavirus. Then, because the physical glitches repeatedly prevented him from chaining matches on the restart. He did not play for example between the US Open (2nd round) and Roland-Garros (1st round). Gasquet has not lost his tennis, his starts to matches are often hard-hitting, but he has more and more difficulty keeping up the distance as he himself recently admitted with a certain sense of the ‘self-mockery (“In an hour I am unbeatable“).

Simon and Gasquet have also pushed their season until this week in Sofia to seek confidence and additional matches. Herbert, for his part, stopped the charges. The Alsatian had rather honorably started his season with two quarter-finals in Doha and Montpellier where he had notably dominated Félix Auger-Aliassime. The rest was more difficult on the sporting level, because it was humanly rich. Having become a father in September, he had skipped the American tour pending the event. He did not go far from the feat against Alexander Zverev in Roland’s second round, before colliding with Jannik Sinner in Cologne and Milos Raonic in Bercy. Nothing frankly disappointing, but no performance to stand out either.

On the flank, Tsonga and Pouille quickly turned the page 2020

Finally, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille will not have great memories of this highly disturbed season. Le Manceau could only line up for two tournaments at the start of the year in Doha and at the Australian Open for… two defeats respectively against Miomir Kecmanovic and Alexei Popyrin. In Melbourne, he even had to throw in the towel after three sets (when he had won the first), once again betrayed by his body. Bone edema in the pelvis finally convinced him to end his season in September. If at 35 Tsonga still refuses to talk about retirement, the signals are not very positive for the future. But he assures that he has not lost the desire and hope to become efficient again in 2021.

Pouille is younger (26 years old). However, he was not spared either in 2020. It’s simple, the Northerner has not played a single match on the ATP circuit, constantly hampered by his right elbow. He hoped to be able to revive himself last March when he took up the racket on the Indian Wells Challenger, but the coronavirus prevented him from continuing. Before the resumption of competitions, he tested in exhibition at the UTS of Patrick Mouratoglou and quickly had to give up.

Result: the operation, long ruled out, became necessary and forced him to draw a line on the rest of the season. Soon a father too, he should be in Melbourne next January, but it will be without Amélie Mauresmo as a coach. Despite this spoiled year, Tsonga and Pouille have not fallen too far in the standings (61st and 69th respectively), protected by the latter’s reform. This is already taken.

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