Les misérables: French men serve up worst Roland Garros performance in 53 years

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French men’s tennis suffered its worst Roland Garros performance in 53 years after Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet, the host country’s last two men standing, promptly collapsed to defeat on Thursday.

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The home nation started the main draw with 18 men.

Now, five days later, there are none — the first time since the birth of the Open era in 1968 that there will simply be no messieurs in the ‘simple messieurs’.

For the third time in the modern era, there are also no French women in the third round.

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Firstly on Thursday, world number 15 Monfils, a semi-finalist in 2008, was defeated by Sweden’s 105th-ranked Mikael Ymer 6-0, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

That left only fellow 34-year-old Richard Gasquet and he had to defeat 13-time champion Rafael Nadal to salvage national pride.

However, Nadal won 6-0, 7-5, 6-2 for his 17th win in 17 matches against a player he first faced when he was 12.

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Monfils struggled physically in the first set and at 0-5 down, a fan on Court Suzanne Lenglen shouted: “Go take a nap, Gael!”

‘Everyone wants a champion’

The French showman, with just two wins under his belt since last September before Thursday, perked up in the second set with future wife and fellow pro Elina Svitolina watching on.

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But it was a brief respite and Monfils’s ugly figures of 62 unforced errors summed up his afternoon.

There were even 21 Frenchmen and women in the qualifying rounds, but not one managed to fight into the main draw.

“It’s true that things are a little more difficult at the moment,” said Gasquet on the eve of Roland Garros.

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“Results have not been exceptional since the start of the year.”

The last Frenchman to win Roland Garros was Yannick Noah in 1983 while Mary Pierce was the country’s most recent women’s champion in 2000.

Like Gasquet and Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, at 36, and 37-year-old Gilles Simon don’t have a lot of petrol left in the tank.

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All four, however, have been in the top 10.

“That was a period of French tennis which was beautiful for everyone. But it is a generation which will soon leave,” said Gasquet, part of the 2017 Davis Cup winning team.

“We are clearly not part of the ‘NextGen’,” joked Simon.

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“In high-level sport, there are not 50 guys who still play at this age. There are the Nadals, the Federers, but they are extra-terrestrials,” added Gasquet.

“You know, the Japanese, they are looking for a champion, the Chinese too. Everyone is looking for a champion,” said Tsonga.

Elsewhere in the French ranks, Adrian Mannarino and Benoit Paire are already 32.

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Lucas Pouille, at 27, is struggling to regain his best level after elbow injury.

Future hopes Ugo Humbert and Corentin Moutet are both 22 but struggle for consistency.

Despite the misery, there are still reasons for hope, said Tsonga.

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Future French champions are there but “you just have to let them evolve, let them grow”.

There will also be no French women in the third round after Fiona Ferro and Kristina Mladenovic lost Thursday.

It’s the third time since 1968 that there has been such a flop after 1981, 1986 and 2019.

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Off the court, it’s even been a tough week for the French tennis federation after their heavy-handed approach to the Naomi Osaka affair.

They also came under fire for scheduling Nadal on court after the 9pm Covid-19 curfew on his 35th birthday and for also having cancer-survivor Carla Suarez Navarro play in an empty stadium.

Roland Garros tournament director Guy Forget refused to be downcast.

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“I’m convinced that the young players we have now, the 16-18 year olds, probably within one to three years will take up the baton,” he told AFP.

“We have had lows and we have bounced back.”

(AFP)

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