Adrian Mannarino couldn’t stifle his chuckle.
He had simply been requested what it meant to him to be the top-ranked males’s tennis participant from France.
“Well,” Mannarino mentioned in a video interview from a match in Astana, Kazakhstan, in early October, “this is not a good sign for French tennis.”
Mannarino, at 35, is in his twentieth yr on the ATP Tour. He has by no means been ranked on the planet’s prime 20 and has by no means superior past the spherical of 16 at a Grand Slam match. He did win the championship in Astana, although, his fourth profession title and second of the yr.
The victory propelled Mannarino’s world rating to No. 24, simply two off from his career-high from March 2018. But, as he heads into the Paris Masters for the thirteenth time, Mannarino is keenly conscious of the void of prime expertise in France.
“We all knew that whenever Gaël [Monfils], Richard [Gasquet], Gilles [Simon] and Jo [Wilfried Tsonga] would get old, there would be a time when French tennis would be in trouble,” mentioned Mannarino, of 4 French gamers who’ve all been ranked throughout the prime 10 however are actually of their late thirties and have both retired or dropped down considerably within the rankings. (Though Monfils did win his twelfth profession title in Stockholm final week.)
“We’re still waiting for the young players to get to the top. There’s a lot of talent, but it’s taking a little bit of time to get to the top level,” he mentioned.
There are actually 13 Frenchmen within the prime 100, however solely 4 — Arthur Fils, Luca van Assche, Ugo Humbert and Hugo Gaston — are 25 or youthful. Fils has proven essentially the most promise.
At simply 19, Fils, a finalist on the French Open junior championship in 2021, started the season ranked outdoors the highest 250 and enjoying on the lower-level challenger circuit. He is now ranked No. 38.
In February, Fils broke by means of in his dwelling nation, reaching back-to-back semifinals in Montpellier and Marseille, the place he beat Stan Wawrinka. He received his first ATP title in Lyon, France, in May, and reached the semifinals in Hamburg, Germany, beating Casper Ruud earlier than falling to the eventual champion, Alexander Zverev. Fils upset Stefanos Tsitsipas en path to the ultimate in Antwerp, Belgium, final week earlier than he went all the way down to Alexander Bublik within the championship match.
Fils additionally made his Davis Cup debut for France alongside Mannarino in September after which was chosen by Bjorn Borg, captain of Team Europe, to be one of many staff’s six representatives on the Laver Cup. He misplaced his lone singles match there to Ben Shelton.
Fils mentioned he has modeled his sport after his countryman Tsonga, an enormous hitter who was runner-up to Novak Djokovic on the 2008 Australian Open and reached 5 different main semifinals.
“Tsonga was one of my idols when I was younger,” Fils mentioned. “He had a big serve, some great forehands and was in amazing physical condition. I’m trying to do the same and play a lot with my forehand and try to serve a lot of aces.”
Mannarino’s model of play is sort of the other. It is finest described as sturdy and dependable, although he advantages from a left-handed hook serve that pulls opponents off court docket.
“I’m not really powerful, so I’m trying to be a little smarter,” mentioned Mannarino. “I’m moving pretty well and adapting to my opponent’s game most of the time. I’m like a counterpuncher; I use the power of my opponent and just try to be as consistent as I can. And if my opponent can miss some shots, I’m always happy.”
Though solely two years youthful than Gasquet and Monfils, each of whom have seen their rankings drop out of the highest 50, Mannarino is enjoying among the finest tennis of his life. Last yr, he reached the spherical of 16 on the Australian Open earlier than shedding to the eventual winner, Rafael Nadal. This yr, he beat Shelton and Hubert Hurkacz on the Miami Open to achieve the spherical of 16 and has wins over Daniil Medvedev and Taylor Fritz. And but solely as soon as, in 2020, has he reached the third spherical on the Paris Masters.
“I’ve never had great results at Bercy, but I feel like I’m really enjoying my time when I’m playing there,” Mannarino mentioned, referring to the positioning of the match. As a toddler, he would sit within the prime degree of the stadium with buddies from his native tennis membership and cheer on the French gamers. “It’s always good to have the French crowd supporting you, especially the Parisians, because it’s pretty noisy and a good atmosphere.”
France has a wealthy and huge tennis historical past. Suzanne Lenglen received Wimbledon six occasions from 1919 to 1925. Yvon Petra received Wimbledon in 1946, and Yannick Noah grew to become the primary Frenchman in 37 years to win at Roland Garros in 1983.
Mary Pierce received the Australian Open in 1995 and the French Open in 2000. Amélie Mauresmo, a former world No. 1, captured each the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006. And Marion Bartoli took the Wimbledon title in 2013.
But there aren’t any extra revered French gamers than the Four Musketeers — Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste — who led their nation to the Davis Cup six straight years, from 1927 to 1932.
More lately, although, Mannarino and Fils met throughout a follow session at France’s nationwide tennis heart when Fils was simply 15.
“His fitness coach came to me after and said, ‘Oh, Arthur didn’t like it; it was going too fast for him and he could barely keep up,’” Mannarino mentioned. “And then, a few years later he’s almost beating me. He’s improved so fast, and his tennis is really mature for his age.”
Mannarino is aware of his time left on tour is proscribed by his age. But, up to now, he doesn’t see himself as previous.
“I don’t feel old because I don’t feel like my tennis level is dropping yet, even my physical condition,” he mentioned. “I just feel like a kid in my head, and I’m trying to enjoy my life on the tour. As long as my legs can still run, I’m going to keep trying my best.”