By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – A combination of injuries, a lack of confidence and poor results mean there is a little chance of a French player shining at Roland Garros this year let alone claiming a title that has eluded the country’s men since 1983 and the women since 2000.
When Lucas Pouille reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January, French hopes were raised that they might finally have a player who could be a force to be reckoned with at the majors.
Yet Amelie Mauresmo’s protege then went three months without winning a match until he claimed the title at a second-tier Challenger tournament in Bordeaux in May.
This, however, was followed by a second-round loss at the Madrid Open and a first-round defeat at the Italian Open for the world number 25.
Last year, none of France’s men went past the third round and only the 16th-ranked Gael Monfils appears to have a chance of surpassing that this season.
Yet the flamboyant Monfils, who won in Rotterdam in February, has been hampered by injuries, the latest being a knee problem.
Asked how he prepared for the French Open, Monfils said bluntly: “I rested. I had some MRIs, block tests to see what my body was doing, and then I started training.”
Tournament director Guy Forget put on a brave face when asked about French hopes at Roland Garros this year.
“They can play the surprise card. Because of their experience in the Grand Slams, Jo-Wil(fried Tsonga), Richard (Gasquet), Gael (Monfils) and even Lucas Pouille, can have hope,” said Forget.
Gasquet only returned to competition earlier this month after going under the knife to treat a hernia with Tsonga losing in the first round in Monte Carlo and Rome having struggled with long-term injuries.
“I know I have little chance to play a good tournament (at Roland Garros),” Gasquet admitted.
Forget did not mention the enigmatic Benoit Paire but the 30-year-old, who has not always seen eye-to-eye with French tennis authority, might be the country’s best hope.
He played superbly to beat Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime to claim the Lyon title on Saturday, his second claycourt title of the season.
On the women’s side, Caroline Garcia made the fourth round last year but had struggled to reach the latter stages in any tournament this season until she reached the final in Strasbourg, where she lost to Dayana Yastremska on Saturday.
Garcia knows all about the pressure of playing at a home Grand Slam but sees it as a privilege.
“Of course I look forward to the French Open, it’s the tournament I wanted to play when I was a kid,” the world number 24 told Reuters. “Sometimes there is more stress but I know the fans have my back. It’s the way I try to use it.”
(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)