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Last woman standing: Garcia carries French hopes at Roland Garros

© Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24 | France's Caroline Garcia celebrates after reaching the last 16 at Roland Garros.

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2018-06-02

The home nation’s last male players crashed out of the French Open on Saturday, but Caroline Garcia will keep the French flag flying after booking her place in the last 16.

Henri Leconte, the last Frenchman to reach a Roland Garros final back in 1988, was right: there will be no home players left in the men’s draw on week two of the French Open – yet another fiasco for a country that hasn’t seen one of its own lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires since Yannick Noah’s 1983 triumph.

As the host nation, France counted 16 players in the men’s draw at the start of tournament, more than any other country, including clay-court specialists Spain. But there were only four left on Saturday morning and zero by dusk, confirming Leconte’s pre-tournament prediction that none would reach the last 16.

The flamboyant Frenchman, who lost to Mats Wilander in the 1988 final, cited lack of training, dedication and mental toughness as some of the factors behind French players' current lack of success. He told Reuters: "They don't train on clay as much as we used to. They are afraid to play at the French Open. They are always coming with an excuse, saying, 'Oh, I have a bad back or elbow’.”

Agony for Monfils

Gaël Monfils, who has complained about feeling sick throughout the tournament, looked visibly in pain on Saturday during his gruelling five-set match with Belgium's David Goffin, which had been interrupted by rain the night before.

True to form, the languid Frenchman was enthralling and frustrating in equal measure, entertaining the crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen with some exquisite shots but ultimately falling short. Always the nearly man, Monfils came agonisingly close to victory in the fourth set, squandering four match points before collapsing in the fifth, 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

There was no such suspense over on Court Philippe Chatrier, where Lucas Pouille, the top-ranking French male player, was soundly beaten by the rising star of Russian tennis, Karen Khachanov, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. He was soon followed by Richard Gasquet, that other supremely talented but consistently underperforming Frenchman, who was brushed aside by title holder Rafael Nadal in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. And as the light faded out on the French Open’s brand-new Court 18, so did the last French hopes, with Pierre-Hugues Herbert falling in straight sets (7-6, 6-4, 7-6) to the towering American John Isner and his brutal serve.

The barren run is an embarrassment for the French Tennis Federation (FFT), whose president Bernard Giudicelli said at last year’s US Open that it was time for the French to “stop being losers”. But according to Leconte, the Federation should take a fair share of the blame for choosing “quantity over quality”.

Over the past two decades, there have been numerous Frenchmen in the top 50 of the ATP rankings. This strength in depth explains why the French, as a team, are always strong contenders in the Davis Cup (and indeed the current champions). And yet hardly any players have come close to winning a Grand Slam tournament over the same period, with only Arnaud Clément (at the 2001 Australian Open) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (at the same venue in 2008) reaching a final.

Garcia to the rescue

The women, meanwhile, have enjoyed greater success – though still falling well short of the title hauls enjoyed by other tennis powerhouses. Mary Pierce was the last home player to win the French Open back in 2000, while Amélie Mauresmo added two more Grand Slam titles with wins at Wimbledon and Melbourne in 2006.

Chances of a Frenchwoman repeating Pierce’s feat look slim at best, with Caroline Garcia still a long shot for the title. But at least she’s through to the last 16 after a hugely impressive straight-sets win (6-1, 6-3) over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, the world number 40.

© Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24 | Caroline Garcia serving for the match on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Garcia, who reached the quarter-finals in Paris last year, has enjoyed a breakthrough season, picking up a pair of Chinese titles in Wuhan and Beijing. She took just one hour and 19 minutes to dispatch Begu and will be fancying her chances in a wide-open women’s draw. Crucially, the number 8 seed appears to have conquered her fear of raucous crowds and the pressure that comes with carrying the French flag on home soil.

'Al dente!'

Speaking of noisy spectators, Italy’s Fabio Fognini enjoyed the kind of support normally given only to French players during his five-set tussle with Britain’s Kyle Edmund for a place in the last 16. The Italian eventually prevailed 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to cries of “Barilla” and “Al dente” – presumably a reference to his bizarre outburst on Thursday, when he claimed young players should “eat more pasta, run and win matches” before enjoying the privilege of playing on the French Open’s showpiece courts.

In Saturday’s other matches, the catsuited and unseeded Serena Williams swatted aside yet another seeded player with a 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Germany’s Julia Görges. The win sets up a showdown with old foe Maria Sharapova, who was equally impressive in her 6-2, 6-1 demolition of Karolina Pliskova. Also safely through are top seed Simona Halep, who beat Andrea Petkovic 7-5, 6-0, and third seed Garbine Muguruza, who crushed former finalist Samantha Stosur 6-0, 6-2.

© Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24 | Serena Williams sets up a thrilling fourth-round showdown with Maria Sharapova.

Date created : 2018-06-02

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