From Friday, France will face the Czech Republic at Roland Garros for a place in the final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. Twelve years ago, also in the semi-finals, and also at Roland Garros, but against the US that time, Sebastien Grosjean and his teammates won their ticket to the most prestigious team competition in tennis… Before indulging in some very original prolongation: a football match on the Centre Court. We are Tennis discussed this guilty pleasure with its instigator, Paul Quetin, fitness coach of this men in shorts and cleatless trainers.
Sebastien Grosjean was leading easily. For some, he was even playing the best match of his career. On that Sunday 22nd of September 2002, on the Centre Court of Roland Garros, the French was only a few points away from a final in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. Leading 5-4 in the fourth set against Andy Roddick, leader of the American team, he was exuding serenity. Even if he had a hard time finishing his match against James Blake two days earlier, this time, he didn’t leave room for doubts to interfere: 15-0 with an ace at 117 mph; 15A after a failed drop shot; 30-15 on a winning serve at 103 mph; 40-15 after yet another mistake of the American. Two match points were then available to the French player. One was enough.
Just one year after winning the ninth Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in its history (against Australia in Melbourne, ed), France would then face Russia for a final at home, at Paris-Bercy. Meanwhile, Roland Garros changing rooms were exulting. The players, their families, the coaching staff and even some members of the stadium's maintenance staff were celebrating the victory and embracing each others. Everyone, but one man: Paul Quetin, fitness coach of the team, who was too busy getting his equipment. "I had a few things ready as I expected the best possible outcome for us, says the staff member of the FFT. We had the possibility, in case of victory, to use the court on an exceptional basis and even if we don't like planning things in advance – we always fear that it jinxes us - I decided to surprise the guys."
« Tsonga could have played professionally»
What surprise is Paul Quetin talking about? Just days away from another Davis Cup by BNP Paribas semi-final at Roland Garros, the man accepts to discuss his little secret: "As the day before, the Saturday, we were leading against the Americans, I thought that in case of a victory, we could finish with a little football match on the centre court, which would have been an exceptional thing." To do this, Paul planned everything: metallic goals discreetly hidden in a reserve, bibs for both teams and discussion with the general manager of the court Gaston Cloup (now retired, ed). Result: thirty minutes after their qualification, the players, physio, doctor and all the technical staff of the French team were back in the arena. "Amélie Mauresmo joined us too. The stadium had cleared out but there was still around fifty spectators in the stands who were able to witness this special moment, explains Paul Quetin. We removed the net, poles, and put two goals on each side of pitch against the tarpaulin. The ball was ready. We improvised the teams". Sébastien Grosjean, Arnaud Clement, Fabrice Santoro and Paul-Henri Mathieu, then the new kid of the group, exchanged a few balls and managed some great cross. "Michael Llodra even scored a hat trick' (three goals scored by one player in a match, ed.) He was teasing everyone," says the instigator of this six against six, still impressed by the technical level of some players.
Some of them are still in activity today: "Historically, football players have always played tennis very well and tennis players are also great footballers. I remember a preparation in the Vosges region a few years ago with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Julien Benneteau, Nicolas Mahut, Gilles Simon and Paul-Henri Mathieu, where we challenged a local football team - which was very good locally - and we beat them 4 goals to 1. Besides, we had to walk seven hours that day to get to the stadium. The club president couldn't believe it!" Paul Quetin remembers "If Tsonga had played football; he could have played in the second division at least." Michael Llodra and Sebastien Grosjean might not have been as good, but they can still boast of having kicked the ball on one of the most beautiful courts in the world: "It was incredible, magical, exceptional. That exceptional, that I've never did it again." Until this weekend?