Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Latest Quest II

Just when I was thinking the main story at the French Open would be about either only the sixth man in history to win all four grand slams or only the third man to win four consecutive Roland Garros crowns….the posters put me right.

At Porte D’Auteuil, about a 10 minute walk from the hallowed courts, there was a massive Adidas poster slapped up against a building showing Novak Djokovic and Justine Henin.

Above Djokovic - there was the alluring prospect that the Serb world number three might collect his second grand slam title.

As for Henin, Adidas’s star tennis player quit 11 days before the beginning of the slugfest. The marketing people obviously couldn’t pulp those posters so – this is ingenious this – they’ve simply adorned her picture with: “Four titles, bravo et merci”.

Until the sunburst finish, Henin won seven grand slams and around 20 million dollars in prize money.

As she chews the cud and pats her belly in her native Belgium, she’s proably tinkering with the offshore accounts and trilling a similar refrain.

She’s alright with her stack but what about Adidas’s next star girl?

But if Adidas were left in the lurch by Henin’s summary decision to retire at 26, pity poor Lacoste. The French clothing line has bolstered the wardrobes for generations of colour co ordinated Euro smoothies.

It too has a poster at Porte D’Auteuil showing the label’s founder René Lacoste in action from his heyday in the late 1920s and his modern heirs namely the American Andy Roddick and the French pair, Richard Gasquet and Tatiana Golovin.

Problem is all three have withdrawn from this year’s Roland Garros due to injury.

Roddick and Golovin went well before the tournament began but it’s the loss of Gasquet that has been most keenly felt.

He is the great French hope. Since he was an embryo in his maman’s womb he has anointed the man to lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires – a tribute to Lacoste and his all conquering compatriots Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon.

And all France is yearning. Well, they’re waiting. It’s 25 years since a Frenchman hoisted the trophy aloft. That chap was a certain Yannick Noah who was discovered by Arthur Ashe.

I read an interview with Noah when I was at school – so let’s say it wasn’t last week - in which he explained the dichotomy of being a black tennis player in France. He outlined that when he won he was French and when he lost he was le Camerounais.

Since he beat the Swede Mats Wilander in 1983, he’s been überFrench. That must be the only reason why he can get away with being a singer.

But I guess that if Tim Henman had won Wimbledon in his late 90s pomp – and no English man has done that since Fred Perry in 1935 – young Henman would doubtless have been made a knight of the realm and given swaths of the golden land.

Gasquet says his gammy knee will be operational come Wimbledon in a month and it has to be said his game does seem to have more chance of ultimate success there than he will ever have on the clay courts of Roland Garros.

But there would be a beautiful symmetry; a Frenchman sporting a French clothing line winning the French Open.

There’d be chansons d’amour indeed.

For the moment Lacoste has hitched its tennis campaign to a trio of non-combatants. That’s such bad luck. Roddick, Golovin and Gasquet will be back in due course punching away their volleys and ripping their forehand passings shots in their sponsored attire

But, in the meantime for the rest of us, there’s a great choice of colours.