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TENNIS

Noah dismisses home French Open hopes

Yannick Noah believes that none of the current crop of French tennis players are capable of matching his exploit in winning the French Open 30 years ago.

Noah dismisses home French Open hopes
Yannick Noah celebrates his French Open win in 1983. Photo: STF/AFP

The dreadlocked star's straight sets win over Mats Wilander in 1983 remains the last male home title win, coming as it did 37 years after the previous one by Marcel Bernard in 1946.

In that time, only Henri Leconte in 1988 has managed to reach the final for France and he lost in straight sets to Wilander.

But hopes were raised when the current generation of French players arrived on the scene a few years back, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet all touted as potential Grand Slam winners.

To date none have done so and the annual consecration of the claycourt season in the Paris springtime has become something of a cross to bear for the home players.

Noah, who became a reggae singer when he retired in 1996, and who still performs on stage at 53, believes that it has been their bad luck to be competitive at a moment of exceptional quality at the top of the sport.

Asked if he felt that 30 years after his triumph another Frenchman was about to win La Coupe des Mousquetaires, Noah told Le Monde newspaper:

"Not now – not this generation. It's not that I think they are no good. It's just that the guys ahead of them are stronger."

"Jo (-Wilfried Tsonga) is capable of beating a top five player at any time, if he plays an exceptional match, but he can't do that twice in a row. Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, over five sets, they are just better."

"Jo hasn't been as fortunate as I was, that's for sure. I think that overall we have similar levels, it's just that a door opened up for me."

"There was one guy to beat (that year) – Lendl – and I crushed him (in the quarter-finals). Against Mats, at that time, I had no problems. I was able to dominate him with my game."

Bearing out what Noah said is Tsonga's defeat to Djokovic in last year's quarter-finals when he let slip four match points in the fourth set before losing 6-1 in the fifth.

It was an eye-opener for the popular Tsonga, who, like Noah, has an African-born sportsman father who married a white French woman.

"After that match I realised that there was a huge gap between me and those kind of players. So I did everything I could and everything that was possible to improve," he said.

"I took a coach so I could practise even more seriously, and I also tried to have very well balanced training sessions. I was totally committed."

"I did everything I could to be able to sustain the competition with those players."

Roger Federer, who knows how hard it is to win in Paris, having lost three straight finals to Nadal before finally coming good in 2009, believes that a French win is possible, but only if the public get fully behind their players as they did with Noah in 1983.

"I don't know if you need to show patience but anything is possible. We all start the tournament on Sunday and maybe the French have more opportunities on other surfaces, like in Wimbledon or hard courts, but here they have the crowd," the Swiss star said.

"I think there was a great support for Noah 30 years ago and players know that. I think this is where they play the best tennis, because they feel comfortable here in France."

"With crowd support this big, it helps you, supports you and makes you trust that you can defeat any player all the way till the last point you play."

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TENNIS

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash

Serena Williams turned up the heat on Saturday ahead of her French Open clash with bitter rival Maria Sharapova, saying the claims about her in the Russian's book were "hearsay" and not "necessarily true".

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash
Serena Williams of the US holds a ball as she prepares to serve to Germany's Julia Goerges on day seven of the French Open. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
Sharapova, who Williams has beaten 18 times in a row, claimed in her recent memoir 'Unstoppable' that Serena “hated” her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.
   
The fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Monday will be the first time the two have faced off since the American's win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals — Sharapova's last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.
   
“I think the book was 100 percent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” said Williams after her 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over Julia Goerges.
   
“I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that's what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it's normal. It's a Wimbledon final, you know. So it's just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn't in tears…
   
“The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, 'oh, okay. I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true'.”
   
The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who holds a 19-2 record over Sharapova, is playing her first major tournament since winning the 2017 Australian Open, after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
   
Williams's only two losses to fellow former world number one Sharapova came 14 years ago — in the 2004 Wimbledon final and at the WTA Tour Championships — before even the birth of Twitter and YouTube.
   
But both are on the road back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences.
   
Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.
   
Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers last year.
   
But the 36-year-old thinks the Russian should be the favourite on Monday as she lacks playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Karolina 
Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.
   
“Quite frankly, she's probably a favourite in this match, for sure,” added Serena. “She's been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I'm just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.”
 
'Numbers don't lie'
 
The rivalry between the two has been a bitter one since the Russian's shock victory over Williams as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, but she admitted that the “numbers don't lie”.
   
Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets in those 18 straight losses.
 
“Any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against,” said the 31-year-old. “You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
   
“I think there is a lot of things in her game that she's done much better than I have… Numbers don't lie.”
   
But for all the bad blood between the two over the years — often involving claims and counter-claims over their private lives — Sharapova added in her book that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.
   
“Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that's what it takes,” she wrote.
   
“Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends.”
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