Yannick Noah – The last Frenchman to triumph at Roland Garros

With the French Open meant to have taken place currently, Last Word on Tennis decided to fill the void by revisiting some famous matches at Roland Garros.

Our second trip down memory lane is to the 1983 tournament when Yannick Noah became the first Frenchman to win his home Slam in 37 years. 


Noah was born in Sedan in 1960, to a Cameroonian father who returned to his homeland after an injury where an 11-year-old Noah was discovered by Arthur Ashe.

Eventually he was brought to the French Tennis Federation’s training centre in Nice in 1971, turning professional six years later. 

A year later he won his maiden tour title but had to wait to make his mark at the highest level. 

However, he had played in a Davis Cup final in 1982 where France were defeated by the USA 4-1.  

French Open 1983

As the 1983 French Open came around, Noah had only reached two Slam quarter-finals, in the previous couple of years in Paris. 

Firstly, he was defeated by Victor Pecci, Sr in four sets and the following year lost to Guillermo Vilas in straight sets. 

He started the 1983 edition in impressive form, thrashing Anders Jarryd for the loss of just three games in the first round. 

The second round saw him turn the tables of Pecci, winning in four, and he advanced to the quarter-finals without dropping a set.

Here he met third seed Ivan Lendl who had reached the final of the previous two Slams but Noah played outstandingly to be two sets up before Lendl hit back, taking the third set. 

Roared on by his home crowd, Noah took his game to another level, finishing the Czech off 6-0 to reach his first Slam semi-final.

Surprisingly,  he would play fellow countryman Christophe Roger-Vasselin who had beaten world No. 1 Jimmy Connors in straight sets.

This was a massive boost for Noah as he had lost his previous four matches to Connors including two on clay. 

In contrast Noah had never lost to his compatriot and as expected he eased into the final winning 6-3, 6-0, 6-0, as the occasion seemed to get the better of Roger-Vasselin. 

Mats Wilander stood between Noah and a first major and the Frenchman was given a rapturous reception when he arrived on court. 

He then produced an exceptional performance covering the net as he won 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 in what was surely the match of his life as became the first Frenchman to win his home Slam since Marcel Bernard in 1946.  

Lack of home success since

Since then, none of his fellow countrymen have replicated his feat, or even reached the final with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga coming closest, a losing semi-finalist in 2013 and 2015.

There has been a similar struggle on the women’s side with Mary Pierce the last Frenchwoman to win at Roland Garros twenty years ago with Francoise Durr preceding her in 1967. 

What happened next

After his triumph, Noah would never again get close to repeating the feat with only two further quarter-finals at Roland Garros, the following year losing to Wilander after being two sets up and again to the Swede in 1987.  

The final major of 1983 saw him reach the US Open quarter-finals and he was knocked out twice more in the last eight at Flushing Meadows. 

He only competed in Australia six times throughout his career, reaching the quarter-final in 1987 before finally breaking his last eight Slam hoodoo in 1990 where he lost to Lendl in the semi-finals.  

He did triumph again in Paris the following year in the doubles with countryman Henri Leconte , beating Czech pair Pavel Složil and Tomáš Šmíd in five sets. 

At the 1985 US Open doubles the French pair were losing finalists and Noah partnered Guy Forget as they reached the 1987 French Open final. 

Davis Cup success as captain

The Frenchman had great success at Davis Cup level as captain in 1991 when his native country claimed their first triumph in 59 years, beating the USA 3-1 in the final. 

Five years later, the feat was repeated as they beat Sweden and a third win followed in 2017 against Belgium. 

He also had Fed Cup success in 1997 as he captained them to their first ever win of that competition when they defeated the Dutch in the final. 


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