Tsonga, Gasquet, Monfils, Benneteau, Simon and Cornet. That is the list of the French players in the world top 30. Britain just has one, Andy Murray. We are obviously very lucky to have a two time grand slam winner and maybe French tennis fans would swap their six players for one grand slam win. It is though interesting that our nearest neighbour with approximately the same population has this number of leading players.
This summer I was fortunate enough to have a look at grass roots French tennis by taking part in an adult tennis competition and my children playing in the corresponding 11/12ans and 9/10ans events.
The first change was in the structure of the competitions. Each local French club had a week/2weeks of competition in turn. Probably the equivalent of a grade 4 or grade 5 competition in Britain. Rather than the event being completed in a day, the children’s event lasted a week and the adults two weeks. Just as in Britain they have ratings which in France start at 30/5, 30/4 and as the player improves they move to a 30/1, 30 and then to a 15/5. (See this thread for further details: http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=675). The interesting thing with the competition is that not everyone starts at the same time. So on the 1st day of competition, the lowest ranked players against each other the winner go forwards and play against players who are ranked slighty higher, the winner again go forwards and play against the players who are ranked slightly higher. You may find that the best two players in the competition will not enter the competition until the semi final stage. There is a corresponding consolation draw for first round losers. The idea is that you will play a match against a lower ranked player which you should win, then a match against someone of similar standard as you and if you win that you’ll play someone better. This is quite different from a compass draw of16 were if you are the lowest ranked player in the draw, you might start against the number 1 seed and then have lose two further matches before you play someone of a similar standard to you.
In the French tournament at U12s they played best of three full sets. At under 10 best of three sets up to 5 games with sudden death deuces with a tiebreak at 4-4. The matches were much longer with my son playing a final lasting three hours. As a result the matches ebbed and flowed a lot more.
The under 10s competition was a green ball event on a full court, there was no corresponding orange event for under 9s, instead there was a mini tennis event fro under 8s.
The tennis club in the small town was a real focal point for the community with a very wide social spread of players and this annual competition was obviously a important moment in the calendar of the town. The competition ended with a meal on the final night when the prizes were presented too.
It was interesting for my children to play longer matches over a period of days and in some ways it felt less pressurised than playing 3 or 4 matches in a single day. The longer nature of the match for me as a parent spectator meant that I didn’t feel as nervous from the start. You knew your child could serve first, hit lots of double faults but at 3-0 down still have time to come back, very different from short sets. This seemed to mean that players could go for their shots more. When I came home and a few days later watched my son play short sets, it seemed over in a flash. Obviously the down side is that you play fewer matches.
I did find it a fascinating insight into a different system.