Sunday, May 31, 2015

Future of French Tennis

The 2015 French Open has been one of the most successful grand slams recently for French tennis players with five players reaching the second week with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga already into the quarterfinals, while Richard Gasquet, Jeremy Chardy, and Gael Monfils try to join him tomorrow.

All five of the Frenchmen that reached the second week are except Chardy make up the top four in France and will all likely be in the top 20 when the new rankings come out on June 8. Those five players are the main reason France has been the second best tennis country in the world behind only Spain.

However, each of the five players in the second week are at least 28 years old, while Tsonga and Gilles Simon are 30, meaning the outlook of French tennis is about to go through a drastic change. Even Nicolas Mahut, who reached the third round, is already 33 years old, and Julien Benneteau, the seventh ranked Frenchman, is 33 years old as well.

So which players will make up the future of French tennis in five or six years time? Benoit Paire and Guillaume Rufin seemed to be the answer to that question a few years ago, but Rufin hasn't played a tour-level match since 2013. Meamwhile, Paire just got his ranking back into the top 100 after having his ranking drop with injury. He is already 26 years old and could have a decent second half of his career, but he couldn't replace one of the top four, let alone all four of them.

Adrian Mannarino has notched some good results in his career, including a round of 16 finish at Wimbledon in 2013. However, he is already 26 years old as well and just got his first career top 10 win this year. He simply lacks the weapons to ever be much better than his career-high ranking of 29 reached this year.

When the current top four French players begin to drop in the rankings, the ones that will really be taking their place are the players who were born in 1994 or later.

Lucas Pouille was the first of that group to break through reaching the top 200 in 2013. Then at the end of 2014, he had his breakthrough moment by reaching the round of 16 at the Paris Indoors as a qualifier, where he defeated Fabio Fognini in two tiebreak sets. However, now at 21 years old, he has only one career grand slam victory and has only barely cracked the top 100 at No. 90 currently.

Laurent Lokoli got the tennis world's attention when he pushed Steve Johnson to five sets in the first round of Roland Garros with highlight reel shots and charisma. However, pushing an American to five sets on clay is hardly an accomplishment for a Frenchman. Since then, he has struggled to live up to the hype and was doing nothing with the wildcards he was receiving. He still hasn't won a tour-level match, hasn't cracked the top 200, and is on a four-match losing streak in challengers right now.

The rest of the young French hopefuls are mostly players that tennis fans don't recognize. Quentin Halys played Rafael Nadal in the first round of Roland Garros this year. At just 18 years old, Halys has just cracked the top 300 for the first time this week after qualifying in Nice. He has three futures titles, but that's all that is keeping him in the top 300. He has only one career Challenger tour win, which is likely the lowest amount of anyone in the top 300.

Finding upcoming French talent after that requires some digging. Corentin Moutet is only 16 years old and has reached a futures level final. In fact, he is the only player born in 1999 that is in the top 1000. Corentin Denolly is currently at a career-high junior ranking of No. 6. The left-hander hasn't had as much success in futures tournaments as Moutet, but he has focused more of his efforts on junior tournaments, which will be good to help him develop more.

Other names that could make up the future of French tennis are Theo Fournerie, Maxime Hamou, Enzo Couacaud, and Mathias Bourgue. There certainly are a number of hopefuls in France, but finding four of them that can replace Tsonga, Monfils, Gasquet, and Simon seems very unlikely. France is going to fall in the world tennis rankings, and it will be interesting to see which countries take their place.

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