While the ATP tournament of Hamburg is taking place this week, a player marked of his madness this stage of the tour almost 15 years ago. In 1991, Yannick Noah, on the verge of tennis retirement, decided to make a last hurray in Germany. His goal? "I just wanted to have a good laugh."
Joakim, 6, and Yelena, 5, couldn't stand still. When their father, Yannick Noah, left Paris and the family home in May 1991, he made them a promise: "I’m going to play tomorrow afternoon and I will be back tomorrow night." Two days later, same old story. In desperation, they made a decision: the kids themselves will travel to Germany to see their father, who just qualified for the quarterfinals of the Hamburg tournament, the first since Basel and Toulouse the previous year. In truth, it was the first time since the Australian Open in 1990 that he won three matches in a row in an official competition. Not bad for a man who, as he then acknowledged in L'Equipe magazine, "showed up here looking like a fool, with no other purpose than to have fun."
«I made a mess in his head »
It's an understatement to say that in May 1991, Yannick Noah didn't care much about his sports career. He just recorded his first album, Saga Africa. At 31, he was even captain of the French team of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. But then, what was he doing at the Hamburg tournament in his early retiree schedule, his first official matches in six months? "Well why not,” replied Noah. “I asked for a wild card and I'm glad that they accepted an old nigga (sic) like me!" When he arrived on site at the last minute, he played his first round match against the Australian Richard Fromberg. "I was surprised to win this game. In fact, I am even surprised to play tennis... I a made a mess I his head and from there, I made him a good mayonnaise that worked great." A mess? Noah indeed decided to make the most of it by... Not taking anything seriously and laughing about everything. Even before the end of the first game, the French had already played with the ball boys, danced, sang, clowned around. In the second round against the Swede Magnus Larsson, he pretended to do a languorous striptease and climbed on the umpire chair causing a true-false challenge in general hilarity. Larsson cracked up, accumulated the mistakes. Noah served with three balls in hand, imitating John McEnroe beautifully, and even drank champagne in the cup of a spectator before acting as if he was shaken by spasms. "For two sets, it was exactly the same than yesterday,” he recalled afterwards. “I was messing with a guy who couldn't find his concentration. And then I decided that I wanted to do something else. There is no specific goal in all this. Just sometimes I want to play dumb, and then sometimes to be serious. Like everyone else in life, isn't it? "Despite an ultimate joke when he started looking into the bag of his opponent as if he was looking for a racquet, Noah played with tremendous efficiency and played towards victory. Surprising? "As Fromberg, Larsson suited me perfectly. I had all that it takes to piss him off. After, I know that if I ever want go further, I would need to go through a lot of things that don't really interest me. I have no plans, I am not preparing this. I find it funny to still be there in the third round, that's it... " Except that after his second show, he got blacklisted by the organizers. They gave him a warning for having "exceeded the limits of the acceptable."
« Avoiding playing his game»
It was therefore with more discretion that Yannick arrived in in the fourth round against the Italian Renzo Furlan. Having made the trip, his kids were in the stands. And put on a show for him: Noah's family was applauding loudly all the faults of its protégé. "Everyone wanted me to come home and stop messing around." The family had to wait a little longer: in less than two hours, with utmost seriousness, Noah won his match on a ultimate ace and qualified for the quarterfinals against Magnus Gustafsson. An opponent who knew exactly what to expect. "I decided not to look at him and especially to avoid playing his game," confessed the Swede after his victory. For the French, the crazy adventure was over. Without any disappointment. His project? To slide one last time on the clay of Roland Garros a few days after. Despite getting a wild card, he didn't feel ready physically on time and decided to give up. Prior to his official retirement at the very end of the season. The following year, at the Hamburg tournament, the rumour swelled: Yannick would be preparing a surprise return on the courts, funded by the tournament organizers to revive good memories and amuse the gallery. A rumour quickly swept away by the interested party "My return to Hamburg? As a player, I doubt it. As a singer, maybe... "