Chess: at 18, Alireza Firouzja, future world number one?

Her favorite French word? ” Tremendous. » Perhaps because it is also the one he has been addressed to most often since his arrival three years ago. Kylian Mbappé in football or Carlos Alcaraz in tennis, these are the heights to climb to if we want to place Alireza Firouzja at the first non-lover of chess.

From the age of 12, he won the Iranian championship, where he was born and raised. Then he becomes the youngest player to reach the Everest of 2,800 points in the world rankings, propelling him to second place at 18 years old. He could toast an additional stage by joining the world championship, for which the so-called “Candidates” qualifying tournament begins Friday June 17 in Madrid (Spain) and runs until July 5.

“He’s the future world number one”, boasts Jean-Pierre Gorges, mayor (DVD) of Chartres and occasional wood pusher, who hosted the ” phenomenon “ in Eure-et-Loir on the recommendation of the former president of the French Chess Federation, Bachar Kouatly. Because if Iran is one of these countries of chess culture – where the thousand-year-old game has left traces of its transit from its Asian cradle to the West – its government restricts the young Firouzja, preventing him in particular from meeting players Israelis at official parties. His parents and his brother, against whom he moved his first pieces at 8 years old, will accompany his departure.

“A fiery player”

France and the quiet streets of Chartres finally receive their endorsement. Yet the city club “didn’t have the right structure” and did not appear “not even in the elite”, recognizes François Gilles, its president. Approaching the prefecture for naturalization, convincing the city’s partners to invest in the most expensive training equipment, enrolling them in tournaments: a hard core then set about integrating the Firouzja.

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The opportunity for Emmanuel Platon, licensed at “C’Chartres Échecs”, to closely observe the young hopeful by refereeing an online competition at home. “It was phenomenal,” repeats the fifty-year-old. We attempt a parallel with the spirit of play that animates the biggest names in sport. He nods: “I was struck by his mastery of time and his ability to pull off shots that no one expected. »

“Alireza is creative in the sense that he thinks outside the box to force opponents into playing difficult shots. He’s a fiery player, who complicates all matches.” also notes Kevin Bordi, who regularly comments on his games on the “Blitzstream” YouTube channel.

“The only trainer who can coach him is a computer”

Last November, the nugget gave him material for analysis, between his victory in the Grand Swiss tournament, qualifying for the Candidates, and a silver medal in the European team championship with the French team. The first of the Blues in almost ten years, won ” by himself “, laughs Maxime Lagarde, reigning French champion and teammate during the competition.

The member of the Chartres club, 28, also saw the confirmation of a gap between his generation, still trained in chess through books, and the new one, with brains modeled by computer databases. “The only trainer who has the computing power to coach him is a computer. He is the youngest player, but certainly the one who has accumulated the most online rapid games in the world. So he has seen a multitude of scenarios, and knows how to react very quickly to a very wide range of situations”, explains Jean-Pierre Gorges.

This series of seven victories in nine attempts did not go unnoticed in a discipline where a draw is the most common at a high level. To achieve this, the neo-Tricolore – he received his French papers last summer and chose not to opt for dual Franco-Iranian nationality – has built a bubble within which he borders on Stakhanovism , far from the solicitations of the press, which had already packed with Étienne Bacrot in the early 2000s, without this one succeeding in the promised career.

“Their work for his parents, and studies for his brother: Alireza’s family left everything for him, the club and the city mobilized like never before, so all of this is an immense burden for him”, understands François Gilles, who nevertheless wonders “if this lack of openness will not penalize him in the long term”.


The youngest crowned?

If he qualified against his seven competitors and then won the world long game championship next year, the queen discipline in chess, Alireza Firouzja would be the youngest winner (at 19) – after Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen (at 22) -, and the first Frenchman since Alexandre Alekhine in 1937. He would face in February 2023 the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, who judged ” unlikely “ to defend his crown “if someone other than Firouzja won (the) ‘Candidates'”. A sign that the defending champion for ten years now has no other priority than to symbolically beat the new generation.



Tennis: At 25, world number one Ashleigh Barty retires

It was an announcement that took the tennis world by surprise. At 25, the world number one on the women’s circuit, Ashleigh Barty, announced her early retirement on Wednesday March 23. “I’m so happy, and I’m so ready and I just know now in my heart that as a person, it’s the right decision”explains the Australian player, in tears, in a video message.

Three Grand Slam tournaments to his name

At the top of the WTA rankings since September 2019, Ashleigh Barty has won 15 singles titles in her career, including 3 Grand Slams (Roland-Garros 2019, Wimbledon 2021, Australian Open 2022). By winning in Melbourne last January, she became the first Australian to win at home for forty-four years, joining at the same time the closed club of sacred Grand Slam players on three different surfaces.

“Success, for me, is knowing that I gave everything, everything I could. I’m fulfilled, I’m happy, and I know how much work it takes to give the best of yourself.explains Ashleigh Barty, who also has 12 doubles titles, including one Grand Slam (US Open 2018).

“I no longer have the energy, the will”

“I no longer have the physical energy, the emotional will and everything it takes to surpass myself at the highest level”recognizes Ashleigh Barty, adding to be “absolutely exhausted”. Statements that echo the psychological torment of the Japanese Naomi Osaka, former world number 1.

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Ashleigh Barty started playing tennis as a child in Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, and won the Wimbledon Junior Championship title aged 15 in 2011. She then made a name for herself on the WTA Tour by doubles, with his dizzying array of punches and physical stamina.

But expectations of success got the better of her, and three years later she gave up tennis for cricket, playing in the Australian Women’s Professional Championship. After a season of absence, she returned to the tennis courts, signing her first Grand Slam triumph at Roland-Garros in 2019. She became the first Australian world No. 1 since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, fifty years earlier.

An exit to the top

She confirms by winning at Wimbledon in 2021, before her triumph at the Australian Open in Melbourne in January. Before her, only Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams had finished three years in a row at the top.

“To be able to win Wimbledon was my dream, my only real dream in tennis. It really changed my perspective. I had this intuition after Wimbledon and I talked about it a lot with my team.admitted the champion. “There was just a little part of me that wasn’t quite happy (…) And then came the Australian Open challenge and I think, for me, that’s the most perfect way.” to leave.

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The WTA, the body that oversees the women’s circuit, praised “an incredible ambassador for the sport”. “I will miss you, my friend, you are different, special and we lived together incredible moments”for her part explained the Romanian Simona Halep, who wonders if her former rival is not going “winning a Grand Slam title in golf”, his other passion. Scottish Andy Murray said to himself “happy for Ashleigh but disgusted for tennis”.

The reactions to this announcement were not limited to the world of tennis. “I want to thank you, Ash, for inspiring a country, for inspiring a nation, at a time when this country really needed”greeted the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.