It is a fortnight like French have not known since 1968. A year ago, at Roland Garros, French tennis saw its various members fall out of contention and none of them managed to reach the third round in singles. Enzo Couacaud, Gaël Monfils and Richard Gasquet even stopped at their second match, as did Caroline Garcia, Fiona Ferro, Harmony Tan and Kristina Mladenovic. France will be relying on the men's doubles, won by Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, and also on its juniors, because there is plenty to look forward to in the final four of the boys' singles, which is 100% French. On one side, Sean Cunin and Luca Van Assche - the future winner -, and on the other, Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard and Arthur Fils. Players who have just come of age and who will try to reproduce this performance in the years to come on the senior circuit.
The fact remains that the step is high and difficult to take. Julien Jeanpierre revealed himself to the world by winning the boys' singles and doubles at the Australian Open in 1998. Titles and successes against David Nalbandian or Roger Federer as a junior, but in the end, no better than 133rd place in the ATP ranking. Clement Morel has also been there. The Lyonnais carried a bag of promises following his victory in Melbourne in 2002, after having dominated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semi-finals. His professional career never took off, however, and at the age of 23, Morel changed his ways. He says: "In the eyes of the public, when you win a tournament like this, you have to break through. Unfortunately, it didn't."
"War from the first point"
Leaving the ITF World Tour Juniors, the circuit dedicated to players aged 18 and under, for fly on his own wings in the seniors is not a walk in the park. Arriving on the circuit means coming face to face with much more experienced and better armed opponents. Sometimes they are not very well known, which is a clear difference with the category below, where the same faces come back regularly. "In the juniors, we all know each other. We all play in the same tournaments and a hierarchy is established," explains Morel. "Fiirst rounds were quite easy. Mentally, some of us were almost beaten beforehand. In Futur and Challenger, it's war from the first point, from the first round. There were also players who weren't lucky enough to be in the top two or three in their country, so we didn't see them as much, but they were very strong. When we played in Spain, it was very hard, they were so used to clay courts..."
In contrast, Virginie Razzano managed to break into the WTA corridors after winning three Grand Slam titles as a junior - the Australian Open in singles and doubles, the French Open in doubles. But her debut in the majors was not easy. "I felt I was level 2 and the seniors were level 4," she says. "The defeats were also good lessons. The most important thing is to go at your own pace, not to get stressed or to think that you are falling behind. The people around me helped me to be positive, even in the most difficult moments. It's not always easy to keep your spirits up when you encounter obstacles." Obstacles, and players with adult athletic characteristics, while the newcomers are not always physically mature.
"I felt like I was thin next to the others. You could see that they were women and I was a young girl! You mustn't be destabilised because you don't feel like you're playing in the same league," continued the former world number 16. "It also took me a while to adapt to making fewer mistakes because the others were playing at a different pace and hitting the ball harder. When they put spin on the ball, it's not like you because you don't have the same muscle strength, the ball spins much faster." Faster, higher and stronger, as Clement Morel has also noticed: "At 16 or 17, we are not yet finished in terms of size and musculature, our serve is not yet at its full potential. Here, you meet very big waiters, you have a little less time, everything goes a little faster. I tried to return well, but I often came up against players who served hard, and there are a lot of them. That's certainly a point that was a bit more difficult for me between the juniors and the seniors." A situation that forces the young contenders to surpass themselves physically, but also psychologically.
Wanna have fun
For Clement Morel, "self-confidence is essential", and in hindsight he feels that he did not have the right approach to the professional world. "I arrived saying to myself that I absolutely had to win, and that is not the right formula. After a while, you start to wonder when things get a bit difficult and you see others who are succeeding. I asked myself: 'What am I going to do afterwards if I don't succeed?' It wasn't the right approach mentally, and maybe that's what I missed." Having become European sales manager for Wilson, the Lyon native previously had the opportunity to work in the detection of young talent for the American equipment manufacturer. A role in which he was able to distil some advice. "I saw them at a very young age, from 12 years old. I often told the parents: 'Be careful, don't put too much pressure on him, let him enjoy himself, that's the most important thing.' I spoke a lot with Stefanos Tsitsipas' father, for example. It's a long process, you're in a real washing machine, so you mustn't run out of steam. I certainly lost the pleasure of playing at one point."
"To continue to have confidence in oneself, or not to lose confidence in oneself, and to take pleasure in playing" is precisely the advice that Virginie Razzano wishes to give. She also has an idea to try and acclimatise to this new level: soak up the best of what is available. "Depending on my schedule, I would go and watch matches. I watched a lot of Martina Hingis' matches, she was a reference in percentage tennis. I was also impressed by Arantxa Sánchez, she had a very complete game. She had a very complete game and I saw players who had a very interesting tactical plan. I watched everything, I tried to take as much information as possible to mature. Just by watching, you learn a lot." Learning to assimilate that transition period, and then moving up the ladder. We wish Elsa Jacquemot, Luca Van Assche and the rest of the new generation all the best. We said we'd see you in ten years?