Forty years after the title of Yannick Noah, Luca van Assche and Arthur Fils approach Roland-Garros by carrying the medium-term hopes of French tennis while the Musketeers Tsonga, Gasquet, Simon and Monfils are gradually bowing out.
Opponents in the final of the 2021 junior tournament, won by Van Assche, the two hopefuls will enter the main draw directly this year. The junior winner thanks to his ranking in the world Top 100, the finalist having benefited from an invitation.
“Of course they will take up the torch fairly quickly,” said Richard Gasquet in May on Eurosport. After the retirements last year of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon, Gaël Monfils and him remain at almost 37 years old the last two spearheads of French tennis of the 2000s in the running this year. But time is progressing and their chances at a very high level are inexorably fading.
On the contrary, at just 19 years old – since May 11 – van Assche is ranked 79th in the world, the best ranking of his career, and Fils is 112th (he reached 104th place in February) a few days from celebrate his 19th birthday on June 12.
“They say it always takes time to enter the top hundred in the world. But I think that when you are very strong you get there very quickly”, according to Gasquet, convinced that they have in them the “real motivation” to enter the Top 10.
In terms of motivations, the healthy rivalry between these two friends is likely to pull them “up”, believes van Assche.
“We tease each other a bit but in a good spirit. And if that allows us both to play well, so much the better. I train very often with him and we know very well that we have about the same level “, he declared to L’Equipe in March.
Recruited in December by the French Tennis Federation, Ivan Ljubicic, former coach of Roger Federer, has only one objective: to see a Frenchman lift a Grand Slam trophy. And for the former world No.3, Van Assche and Son have “the potential”.
“They are completely different, in character, as people. But I think we may have players there who we can hope to see succeed, not from 2023 but in the future, something big”, he believes.
Too early this year to succeed Noah, therefore, but convincing results are expected Porte d’Auteuil for these two players in the process of making a place for themselves on the ATP circuit.
Born in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert in Belgium, Van Assche (70kg, 1.78m) is playing the main draw at Roland-Garros for the first time, having failed in qualifying in 2021 and 2022, but he has the experience of a first round this year at the Australian Open.
Half for Son
For his part, Son (1.85m, 83 kg) is playing the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. He also lost in qualifying in 2021 and 2022 in Paris.
Van Assche was the first of the two to put his name on the list of winners of a professional tournament in 2022: he has four Challenger trophies to date (Lisbon and Maia in 2022, Pau and San Remo in 2023).
He also won his first victory on the main circuit in April by beating Pedro Sousa (475th) at the ATP 250 in Estoril. Two high-profile matches followed at the ATP 250 in Banja Luka where he beat three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka before taking on Novak Djokovic.
Son, he has a pro trophy to his credit (the Oeiras Challenger in January), but he made an impression at the start of the season: at the ATP 250 in Montpellier, he reached the semi-finals by having beat Gasquet, Bautista and Halys before giving in to Sinner. In the process, he played another half in ATP 250 in Marseille where he took advantage of Sinner’s withdrawal in the second round before beating Wawrinka and giving in to Bonzi.
He arrives at Roland-Garros with a first victory in Masters 1000, in Rome where he beat Juan Manuel Cerundolo before being eliminated by Holger Rune.