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French Men Train for the Grand Slam; Richard Gasquet's World-Famous Backhand; Amelie Mauresmo: No Regrets

Aired February 20, 2014 - 05:30:00   ET


PAT CASH, CNN HOST: We're here in Marseilles, shining the spotlight on French tennis. When compared to the other three Grand Slam hosting nations of Australia, Great Britain and the U.S., France has more men in the top 100 than those nations combined.

We'll show you what the French are doing right, but we'll also ask the question why hasn't there been a male slam winner for over 30 years.


CASH (voice-over): Coming up on the show, French number one, Richard Gasquet, see how I fare against his world-famous backhand and the hit that left me spinning.

Plus Gael Monfils, one of the most talented players on tour, is also a fast start in 2014, but can he bounce back at the top of the game?

Plus Amelie Mauresmo. She used to win this Paris tournament. Now she runs it.

And the lasting legacy of Rene Lacoste, a look back at the French tennis legend who left his mark on the fashion world one crocodile at a time.

CASH: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils are the biggest names in French tennis. They grew up together and competed against each other and have had the pressure of flying the flag for tennis-mad nation.

Not only that, but they're products in a system designed to spot young talent and turn them into champions.



CASH (voice-over): Roland Garros is the crown jewel of clay court tennis. It's a Grand Slam tournament every French player dreams of winning.

Each year champions cash in on the big prize money checks and so does the French Federation. It's one of the advantages of being a Grand Slam nation.

GILLES SIMON, WORLD NUMBER 22: First, we are lucky to have a slam (INAUDIBLE) generates a lot of money. It's very a national haven, so so many people see it on TV, so the kids just want to go there, be a tennis player also. And they want to look like players, so it helps a lot to -- for the promotion of our sport. And then the federation also is doing a good job because most of this money is going in the different region of France.


CASH (voice-over): Gilles Simon is one of the four players who have dominated the headlines in French tennis over the past decade. He grew up playing alongside countrymen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet.

SIMON (voice-over): We are all from the same generation and we grew up all together in different (INAUDIBLE).

GAEL MONFILS, WORLD NUMBER 24: We grew up with all my mates, you know, Gilles, Jo, Richard. You know, we've been there together since we've been 12.

RICHARD GASQUET, WORLD NUMBER 9: We want to do well, but we are about to win and of course, it's important because these are my friends.

CASH (voice-over): The French men are performing and winning and it's showing up in the world rankings. Twelve French men are in the top 100. That's more than the other three Grand Slam nations combined.

PAT RAFTER, AUSTRALIA DAVIS CUP CAPT.: Out of all the well funded countries because of having a Grand Slam, of all the money and the wealth that's in that country because of that Grand Slam, then you can just distribute it amongst the players. Out of all those countries, France are the only ones dealing with that situation really well. The French, the English and the U.S. obviously (INAUDIBLE) Andy Murray is obviously a big (INAUDIBLE), but Aussies and the Americans are struggling.

CASH (voice-over): While some of the other Grand Slam nations are looking for answers, France is thriving. Nearly $70 million goes to the country's national development plan each year. Top-ranked French man Richard Gasquet told us you don't have to look far to find a tennis court.

GASQUET: There are many courts, even if you live in south of France on the -- in the east or in the north. They have a lot of clubs, a lot of good teachers and tennis is very popular in France.

CASH (voice-over): Eric Winogradsky is charged with developing the next generation of French tennis stars. And above all, an elusive French Grand Slam men's champion.

ERIC WINOGRADSKY, HEAD OF MEN'S PRO TENNIS (voice-over): We are looking for that for our history years now, since Rene's (ph) last win in Roland Garros. But we are -- we're getting closer and closer now.

CASH (voice-over): He's based here at INSEP, the national sports institute in Paris. This is where more than 20 teenagers live full-time, balancing studies with their intensive practice sessions.

WINOGRADSKY (voice-over): I think now we have a better idea about what is necessary to reach the top.

I think that the most important for me is (INAUDIBLE). If the boys have the vitality (ph) and if they're -- of course, their delivery is good enough, of course they will have a good chance to make it.

But vitality (ph) I think is the best and the most important part.

Of course, it's very important to see when it gets difficult what is going to -- what is going to be their reaction, if they're going to go back to the chair and if they're going to say to them, I will never make it or whatever. It is interesting. It is very interesting.


CASH (voice-over): Once players graduate from INSEP, they move to Roland Garros to train in the prestigious national center. With this elaborate infrastructure in place, why hasn't France produced a men's Grand Slam champion in more than 30 years?

Patrick Mouratoglou coaches world number one Serena Williams and runs a large tennis academy outside Paris.

PATRICK MOURATOGLOU, SERENA WILLIAMS COACH: I think French players are a bit -- things are too easy for them. They make a lot of money in tennis quite early. And I think it's -- it can be something -- we lack a bit ambition. Most of the French players lack ambition because they have a nice life; they have a lot of money since they're young, if they're good. So, in a way, things are too easy for them and maybe it's not in the culture of France to have very, very high ambitions. Grand Slam winners are people who have very high expectations, who have simply the mentality of champions. And I'm not sure that too many French players are of that mentality.

CASH (voice-over): Veteran journalists have their own theories on why the French men have fallen short of a Grand Slam title.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are used to having you want when you want it and that doesn't make you tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) the quality of the French player. (INAUDIBLE) players. They are so strong and so difficult to (INAUDIBLE), Nadal, Djokovic and Murray in the same space time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have put players with some good players but we don't know really how to -- what makes the difference in champions and good players. I don't think there is any system that (INAUDIBLE).

CASH (voice-over): Despite the challenges facing the French men, many believe this group has what it takes to win the Davis Cup. Arnaud Clement is the team captain.

ARNAUD CLEMENT, FRANCE DAVIS CUP CAPTAIN: It's fantastic because, yes, it's a very strong team, one of the strongest of the world.

CASH (voice-over): A talented group of French men who grew up together are now reunited and playing for the same goal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know we can play well. We know we can perform and we can win the Davis Cup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Davis Cup, that is the main objective for everyone because we really want to win it.

CASH (voice-over): There's no shortage of tennis performance in France. In fact, that's one of their great advantages. They get a chance to compete in top-level events when they're young. I've traveled to the Marseilles Open with the opportunity to play the French number one and face his world-famous backhand.


CASH (voice-over): I've never seen a grip like that. That's quite incredible.

If you think about anything to change your hands, not your match, just your grip.

GASQUET (voice-over): Yes, just like that there.


GASQUET (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE).

CASH (voice-over): Like Rafa with the bottles of water, you have with the grip.

GASQUET (voice-over): Yes, yes, yes. Everybody has a -- has a habit, you know. With me, I have just with the grip. You know, the grip is important for me.

CASH (voice-over): OK. That's the secret.

GASQUET (voice-over): No, no, no, I have no secrets.

CASH (voice-over): No?


GASQUET (voice-over): No secret at all.

CASH (voice-over): I think you have a secret for the (INAUDIBLE).


CASH (voice-over): With your backhand, I mean, it's world-famous. You have the angles you can get.

How did you develop a backhand like that? Was it from your -- when you were a little boy?

GASQUET (voice-over): It's very natural, very natural. Yes, I was -- it was easy for me to play with the backhand. I think it is the most important for me, when you are a child, to have a good technique, you know. And I think in France we have a good technique. I think I practice a lot with my father and I think I have a good motion, good grip and good grip. I think that -- I like to play with the wrist and I think that's why I have a good backhand.


CASH (voice-over): But you also have a big forehand. I mean, people --


CASH (voice-over): -- think, OK, the backhand looks beautiful, but you could do the same thing on the forehand.

GASQUET (voice-over): Yes, I can do -- I can do it on the forehand. Of course I have a good forehand. But I think my backhand is the best.


CASH (voice-over): Oh, come on.

Well, it's not just power that Richard has. He has incredible angles and top spin. He can pull a player out of position with just one hit. And it's almost the end of the point.

GASQUET (voice-over): This one is good.

CASH (voice-over): How many times have you played Rafa?

You've played him since you were little.

GASQUET (voice-over): Yes, it's difficult for me against him. And on tour I think that's the only player I never -- I never beat. It's him where I lost. And maybe I lost even times maybe in my life. So of course I want to win against him one time in my life. It's a goal for me.

CASH (voice-over): One of the most important things Richard needs to have is footwork. He needs to get into position so he can line up for that big powerful win.

Richard Gasquet first made headlines in France when he was featured on the cover of "Tennis" magazine at just 9 years of age. The young French man's all-court play and good technique attracted tennis fans. It's not too often you see players at this age signing autographs.

By 2002, the child prodigy had won boys' singles titles at both Roland Garros and the U.S. Open with each win came more expectation.

GASQUET (voice-over): I didn't manage well just as this was very bad for me when I was a -- when you are a child, when you have growing at 17 or 18 years old, you need to be in -- relaxed. And I was a little bit too much (INAUDIBLE) on my shoulders.

CASH (voice-over): One strategic place that Richard has is his thick serve. He will get you out of position with a serve so he can use his powerful ground strokes to win the point.

Ai, yi, yi. Ugh. What chance do I have? This is a great shot.

Thank you very much, Richard. Thank you. Good luck for this year.


GASQUET (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE).

CASH (voice-over): I've never seen some backhands like that before. Later.

GASQUET (voice-over): Thank you.


CASH (voice-over): Still to come on OPEN COURT, Amelie Mauresmo. She's one of the most talented French women to ever play the game.

AMELIE MAURESMO, DIRECTOR, WTA PARIS: I'm happy. I'm really happy. I don't regret anything.




MARIA SHARAPOVA, FOUR-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION (voice-over): I was (INAUDIBLE) because she was a very tough player (INAUDIBLE).

NADIA PETROVA, 13 WTA SINGLES TITLES: She was an amazing player. But she has this all-around-the-court game and it was quite interesting to see what she's going to come up with next.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was always like, you know, supporting her because she's a great person and it's great to have her in -- still in the tennis.

CASH: Welcome back to OPEN COURT from Marseilles. Amelie Mauresmo retired from competitive tennis five years ago. But the French great is still finding ways to stay involved in the game. A former World number one is now a tournament director. It's a challenging role that's forced her to think way beyond the baseline.


MAURESMO (voice-over): I am (INAUDIBLE) of the tournament (INAUDIBLE). I really thought, yes, it seems like a natural next step to take and given my attachment to this -- to this event, I said yes.

This place is special for me because, first of all, when you enter this court, you really have a family atmosphere.

I have made some of my most emotional moments on the tennis court out there. I'm also the face of the tournament, so TVs, radios, papers, anything that they want to know and to promote the tournament, I'm also doing this. It's quite a big job. And then when tournament comes, then staying, trying to make sure that all the players are really happy, everything is fine.

I have to make kind of magic because you're not doing this. There is a huge team behind this. So you really need to put full trust in and make them feel good about what they're doing in preparing 10 days for this.

SHARAPOVA: I think the players (INAUDIBLE) is so -- is invaluable because it's incredible what you know as a player and the little details that you bring to the table.

PETROVA: You play with this person it will create so many good memories. It sort of brings a little bit more friendship into it, I would say.

MAURESMO: You don't push this kind of players to come to their tournament and make it means that they are happy to be here. I know what they're going through. So I'm doing the best for them to really enjoy the moment because this moment, they are -- they are rare sometimes in your career. And I really need to embrace them.

The highlight of my career is winning Wimbledon in 2006. It was really a great moment and huge emotion there on the court, exhilaration, the emotion, the goose bumps everywhere and the relief, the relief also was huge. So it was one of the biggest moments probably of my career. It's a feeling you really keep in yourself. You're not thinking about it every day in your life. But it's something that really belongs to you and you cherish.

When I stopped the pressure that came out of my shoulders was huge. I mean -- and I was finally able to live, to live the life with a normal life, let's say, to enjoy the things that I could not enjoy before. I also felt that I achieved as a tennis player everything that I could have done.

And honestly, I was scared, what am I going to do? Is it going to be exciting enough? You're going to something that you have no clue what it is. And I'm happy. I'm really happy. I don't regret anything. I could see definitely see myself also outside of this role. I'm a wine lover. I have a big fat wine cellar. I'm passionate about different regions, different countries, different learning about many things.

To have another passion and to, again, be able to fulfill it in a way and learn many things and meet new people in a completely different area, atmosphere and world. Why not?

CASH: Well, cheers to you, Amelie. I'd like to wish you all the best with your future plans.

CASH (voice-over): There's another Grand Slam champion from France who I've spent some time with recently. Log on to our website to see Max Foster's OPEN COURT interview with Marion Bartoli, the star stunned the tennis world nearly a year ago when she won Wimbledon.

MARION BARTOLI, 2013 WIMBLEDON CHAMPION: I've been able to fulfill my dream, my childhood dream. And I will never forget that day.

CASH (voice-over): We've reposted our interview with the Grand Slam champion. Log on to our website, for details.




CASH: Welcome back to Marseilles and our French tennis special. Well, it may be hard to believe, but this shirt that I'm wearing is similar to what the men used to wear on court back in the 1930s. Well, French tennis legend Rene Lacoste found them hot and uncomfortable, so he used to roll his sleeves up. That was until one day he decided to cut them off altogether.


MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Rene Lacoste's tenacious style of play earned him the nickname, The Crocodile.

GUY FORGET, LACOSTE AMBASSADOR: One of his strengths on the court was he would never give up. You know, he would, you know, run every ball back and he actually, you know, was a -- sometimes unbeatable.

JEAN-PAUL LOTH, FORMER FRENCH DAVIS CUP CHAMPION: Rene was a very good player and he -- I think he went to be number one because he worked more than any of us.

FOSTER (voice-over): Lacoste made his mark on the tennis court in the 1920s, when he reached the number one ranking. He was a member of the famed Musketeers who beat the Americans and brought the Davis Cup home to France.

LOTH: Tennis was a very small part of sport. It wasn't even a sport. And the victories of these French guys were so unbelievable and they became so popular that everybody knew that they were tennis players.

FOSTER (voice-over): Jean-Paul Loth and Guy Forget formed lasting relationships with Lacoste. Both men are former French Davis Cup captains who looked to the legend for inspiration and advice.

FORGET: You remember all the letters, you know, we got and all the phone calls and how proud he was when we won the Davis Cup in 1991, because being in the United States was very special for us. But I'm sure for Rene as well.

He was, you know, all these different persons at once. He was an engineer. He was a great champion. He was a visionary man.


LOTH: He stopped to play tennis at 24. He had already seven Grand Slams and single, a few in Dublin, mixed doubles. But he said tennis wouldn't be the future for me. I have to -- I have to do a lot of things. I have to work.

FOSTER (voice-over): Tennis turned out to be only the first chapter of a long lucrative life. Rene drew on his experiences as a tennis player to create a short-sleeved polo shirt, a staple of the Lacoste brand.

FORGET: He wanted to find something that was lighter and that was just more comfortable, that he could breathe, you know, more freely with it.

LOTH: That was his idea. His idea was I have to find something new, because it's not comfortable with this kind of shirts. It was very revolution for the comfort of the players.

FOSTER (voice-over): Most people might be satisfied with a trophy cabinet full of Grand Slam titles, a global fashion brand and a popular tennis shirt. But the innovator was far from finished. He soon added racquet design to his repertoire.

FORGET: I was so surprised how curious a racquet would be. I thought that is no way a racquet can work. I played for 15 minutes with it and he said, you're -- you think eventually one day you would consider trying it in a match? And you know, as soon as I tried it and I said, you know what? Next week I'm using your racquet.

And he was so happy. You know, he was like a little kid and I happened to play with the next two years the best tennis of my career. I'm sure that racquet helped a lot.

FOSTER (voice-over): The man first known as The Crocodile passed away in 1996 at the age of 92. A statue has been built in his honor at Roland Garros, a tribute to the tennis star and innovator who made his mark on the world one crocodile at a time.


CASH: Well, thanks very much to Amelie Mauresmo and Richard Gasquet for joining us on this special edition of OPEN COURT. Next month we travel to Miami, where we interview rising Canadian star, Jeannie Bouchard (ph).

Until then, it's goodbye from Marseilles.