PARIS – It has been 40 years since a French player last won the men’s singles title at Roland Garros and Yannick Noah’s 1983 achievement is unlikely to be matched in 2023 when the second Grand Slam of the season starts on Sunday.
However, the French are not alone when it comes to discovering that home is where the hurt is as title droughts for male players have been a regular feature at the other three Slams.
At the Australian Open, Mark Edmondson has pride of place as the last home player to lift the men’s title – way back in 1976. Ranked 212th in the world, he stunned compatriot John Newcombe, a seven-time Slam champion, in four sets when the tournament was still played on grass. It was dubbed the “Battle of the Moustaches”.
Edmondson’s story enchanted fans – to earn enough money for his tennis travels, he worked as a janitor and travelled to the championship site at Kooyong by tram.
“You can’t say it would never happen again, but I think it’d be nearly impossible,” he said in 2016.
Edmondson, who remains the lowest-ranked Slam winner, went on to reach the semi-finals in Australia again in 1981 and Wimbledon a year later. For good measure, he also pocketed five men’s Slam doubles titles.
Since that 1976 final, it has been a tale of near-misses for Australian men at their home Slam. John Marks (1978), Kim Warwick (1980), Pat Cash (1987 and 1988) and Lleyton Hewitt (2005) were all runners-up.
On the women’s side, Australia’s Evonne Goolagong won the 1976 title with four more championship seasons coming for home players, the most recent of which was Ashleigh Barty in 2022. That ended a 44-year wait.
Noah remains the last Frenchman to win a home Roland Garros title, thanks to his straight-sets victory over defending champion Mats Wilander in the 1983 final.
In fact, he is the last Frenchman to win a men’s title at any of the four Slams.
Helping him celebrate on court in Paris was his father Zacharie, a former Cameroonian footballer.
“For him, it has been very hard. Every time he came here, he would go back to Cameroon with more white hair,” said 23-year-old Noah who spent his early years in the African country before returning to Europe to pursue his tennis dream.
Noah’s record at the other Slams was mediocre – a semi-final in Australia, three quarter-finals at the US Open, third round at Wimbledon.
Henri Leconte, in 1988, was the last Frenchman in a Roland Garros final while Gael Monfils (2008) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2013 and 2015) were semi-finalists.
Mary Pierce, in 2000, remains the only Frenchwoman in the Open era to win her home Slam.
Andy Roddick is America’s most recent men’s champion at the US Open, triumphing in 2003 with a straight-sets victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero.
One year later, Roger Federer won the first of his five consecutive titles in New York.
Andre Agassi (2005) and Roddick (2006) both succumbed to the great Swiss and an American man has not made the final at Flushing Meadows since.
Roddick also had the misfortune to lose three Wimbledon finals – all to Federer.
Since Roddick’s win in New York, the women’s title was swept on four occasions by Serena Williams and then by Sloane Stephens in 2017.
In Britain, there was a 77-year wait for a British man to win Wimbledon and then two championships are secured in the space of three years.
Andy Murray rode to the rescue of national pride in 2013 with victory over career-long rival Novak Djokovic in the final. For good measure, he claimed another in 2016.
Until Murray’s landmark win, Fred Perry’s third and final triumph at the All England Club in 1936 represented the last time a British man had won Wimbledon.
Perry also won three titles at the US Championship and one each in France and Australia before his career at the Slams ended when he decided to turn professional.
Murray had also been runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon in 2012 – the first British finalist since Bunny Austin in 1938.
On the women’s side, Virginia Wade was the last home champion in 1977. AFP