So dominant were Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Jacques Brugnon and Jean Borotra in the days of flappers, Lindbergh’s transatlantic hop and the Charleston that the Frenchmen earned their own collective nomiker: Les Quatre Mousquetaires (aka, The Four Musketeers), after a popular 1920s film adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic.
Long before he introduced us to the polo shirt with the now-iconic crocodile logo, Lacoste was collecting tennis titles, a gifted, methodical player who won seven singles Slams. Like his countryman, Cochet rose to No. 1 in the world, and Brugnon and Borotra often teamed up to win doubles titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
All these years later France might just have its Four Musketeers once again. For one tournament at least. The nation boasts no less than four players in the round of 16 at the US Open – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Jeremy Chardy and Benoit Paire – more than any other country and its most here in the Open era. That’s a startling statistic considering that some of France’s top players, Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils and Adrian Mannarino included, made earlier-than-expected exits.
Despite this on-court renaissance, the foursome has flown under the radar in New York. Perhaps that’s because expectations are comparatively low. After all, it’s been a while since a Frenchman broke through at a Grand Slam. Thirty-two years, in fact. You’d have to flip the calendar all the way back to 1983, when a dreadlocked Yannick Noah triumphed on the crushed brick of Roland Garros, to find the last time a Frenchman raised hardware on the final Sunday of a Slam. And Cedric Pioline was the last to reach a US Open final, in 1993, when the surprise finalist fell to Pete Sampras in straight sets.
But French tennis has quietly been on the upswing for several years now. Today, there are 10 men from the European nation in the Top 100, second only to Spain’s 12. Four different French players have won ATP singles titles in 2015 – Gasquet (2), Paire, Simon and Nicolas Mahut. Spain is the only other country with four different winners this year. Will they add another title to that tally at the 2015 US Open?
“In a way it’s a surprise, because none of them, except Gasquet and Chardy, had a good summer,” said Vincent Cognet, a veteran journalist with the French newspaper L’Equipe. “Nine months ago it was a disaster at the Australian Open because there were no Frenchmen after the third round. I don’t really have an explanation.”
“Tsonga has played very solid and has a relatively easy draw," he continued. "Chardy is very impressive. He reached the semis in Montreal and has always been very talented, but he’s always been up and down his whole career. Gasquet almost lost in the first round to Thanasi Kokkinakis and was very lucky. He admitted it. And Paire, he’s so special. He’s hugely talented and plays in a totally different way. His touch is fantastic, but he’s so inconsistent. But all the planets have aligned.”