It is a fact that tennis historians cannot always be explained. Why does a nation suddenly come to dominate the rest of the world, like the four French musketeers in the 1930s? Or after them, the Australians, Swedes, Americans and Spaniards who took turns flying over tennis debates for many years. Here is the Russian flag which flies on the courts of Roland-Garros, 25 years after the victory of Yevgueni Kafelnikov in 1996.
The former world number 1 did not foresee a great future for his distant successors in 2017 during a statement to the Russian agency Tass which had made a lot of noise in his country. “It’s hard to know if these young people can go far in the future”, he said after a Davis Cup meeting, about Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov. Worse, he went on to praise Alexander Zverev, a player of Russian origin but born in Germany and playing under the German flag.
Different motivations for the new generation
This error of analysis makes Jean Couvercelle, founder of Tennis magazine and a great tennis historian, smile. “It’s always a little complicated to give rational and reliable reasons for domination, but for a nation to work, the first condition is that the country’s youth discover en masse the pleasure of this sport”, explains the expert who witnessed the first Russian wave, Soviet in fact, in the 1980s.
→ DEBATE. Should we force athletes to respond to media requests?
Before a new generation takes over with different motivations. “In the days of the Soviets, it was the political aspect that prevailed, he said. The current generation has known modern Russia where it has been found that sporting careers make it possible to earn a very good living. “
Rich or poor, these two generations have in common a character… eruptive. “With them, you never really know how it’s going to turn out”, relief Jean-François Caujolle, host of the new generation as boss of the Open 13 Tournament and opponent of the old one on the court.
Hatred of the clay
The racket breaks and mood swings of Daniil Medvedev, the most successful of the gang with two grand slam finals on the clock, have remained legendary. Like his stubborn hatred of a certain clay to which he recently revealed his love. “Do you like being in the dust like a dog?” “, he threw during the last Masters of Rome at the change of side of a match, where he had been crushed by his compatriot Aslan Karatsev. He is not the only Russian who does not taste the charms of sliding on red earth. Her compatriot Maria Sharapova described herself there “Like a cow on the ice”.
Even though the champions of the past traditionally came from the southern republics of the Soviet Union like Georgia or Crimea, which are suitable for outdoor tennis on clay courts, the men in red have never shone the same color on the surface. 1996 Paris winner Yevgeny Kafelnikov has won just three tournaments on earth. As for Marat Safin, also former first in the world, he has never done better than a semi-final Porte d’Auteuil. Same analysis for the former world number 3 Nikolay Davydenko, who has never really shone on earth.
The surprise could come from the less rated
Daniil Medvedev, seeded number 2 this year, seemed to be chased by a black cat at Roland Garros, where he had never won a match, until Monday 31, and his victory against Kazakh Alexander Bublik, obtained by playing in a very little earthy style made of winning returns and direct points. This performance earned him the honors of the Central Nocturne this Wednesday, June 2, where he will face the American Tommy Paul (55e worldwide).
At least he won, unlike Andrey Rublev (number 7) who lost on Tuesday 1er, victim according to his trainer of a mental blackout. “He’s a stressed pit bull”, declares the technician in The team. Rublev, the last finalist of the Land Masters of Monte-Carlo, leaves Porte d’Auteuil a lot of regrets, after having hung the quarter-finals in 2020, reached just after a title in the tournament on land in Hamburg.
What if the surprise came from the two least rated, Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev? The first, who will play Wednesday 2 at the beginning of the afternoon against the returning Japanese Kei Nishikori, seems to have found his best level of 2018, when he won the Masters of Paris-Bercy. He remains on a round of 16 at Roland Garros 2020 after a quarter in 2019, which gives him good hopes for the current edition.
Neither can we completely neglect Aslan Karatsev, the lesser known of the four, a more modest player and a late bloomer. Everyone is watching him out of the corner of their eyes because he remains on the feat of the year 2021. He had released Novak Djokovic from his garden in Melbourne, in the semifinals of the last Australian Open.