Just like the Spaniards, the French are also exerting themselves on the ATP tour much the same way the Russians are on the WTA tour. While their positions in the world rankings are not quite as impressive as the Spaniards, the French recently wiped the floor with red and yellow flags in the Davis Cup quarterfinals.
After their 5-0 defeat of Spain I took a little look at their July rankings. Two in the top 20, six in the top 50 and 11 in the top 100.
When you look at their top players the results the French have been able to have are all the more amazing considering some of the injuries that have plagued them.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – World Number 11
By far the most famous of the French players, Tsonga reached a career high ranking of 6 in 2008. Early in his career Jo struggled with injuries. He had a herniated disc in 2004, two separate shoulder injuries in 2005, continued back problems and an abdominal injury between October 2005 and February 2006. He irritated the abdominal injury again at the end of 2006 and between 2004 and 2006 he only played 8 tournaments.
Tsonga came back with a bang, bursting into our lives during the 2008 Australian Open where he bounded to the finals only to be stopped by Novak Djokovic. Tsonga has always been good on hard courts, and is particularly deadly when in form with his brilliant shots troubling the best players. During the quarterfinals at the 2008 AO, Tsonga thrashed Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, barely letting him into the match.
The Frenchman had a few months off after the Australian Slam to have knee surgery but quickly hit peak form on his return. At Wimbledon he had his best result and making the quarterfinals followed by his first Masters 1000 title in Paris.
Tsonga ran to the semi finals of the AO this year where he ran into Roger Federer, quickly running out of steam after an incredible five set match against Nicolas Almagro in the previous round.
Due to his numerous injury time outs Tsonga has yet to really find his feet on clay, having only played 10 tournaments on clay since turning pro.
Gael Monfils was a very promising and interesting player when he first turned pro. Always an interesting character, Monfils was the winner of the boys singles titles at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, however at a professional level his best rest results have been reaching the semi finals at Rome (2006), finals in Paris (2009) and semi’s at Roland Garros (2008).
Monfils, while flashy and entertaining, has been accused of lacking focus and abusing his body around the court in an attempt to produce spectacular shots, which he frequently does, sometimes followed by a victory dance at the end of the match.
In 2005 Monfils shot up the rankings 200 places and moved into the top 50. In 2006 after losing to Federer in the Doha finals he was granted a wild card into a ping pong tournament in Las Vegas where he won the tournament and beat the world champion in the process.
Gael withdrew from the 2007 US Open and 2008 Australian Open with a hamstring injury, then struggling with a shoulder injury. In 2009 he retired, again in the AO, with a wrist injury, then withdrawing from Madrid and Rome with knee issues. In 2009 he had thumb and wrist problems, as well as a back injury that forced him to retire in Shanghai.
Monfils continued to struggle in 2010 with his form. He withdrew from the Medibank International with a shoulder injury he had issues with in Brisbane. He continued to have wrist problems that forced hi to withdraw from Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome before returning to the tour at Estoril where he retired with a stomach illness.
Gael is a defensive counter-puncher with an incredible ability to slide. He also has a 2-1 record in Davis Cup.
Julien Benneteau – World Number 32
Julien has recently recaptured his best ever ranking on number 32. Between May 2008 and July 2010 he has reached four finals at an ATP level but lost them all. His best Grand Slam results was a quarterfinal showing at the 2006 Roland Garros event.
Benneteau is also a successful doubles player. He made the 2007 AO quarterfinals, 2006 French Open quarterfinals, 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinals, 2004 and 2007 US Open semi finals. Over the years he has won 8 doubles titles, including three with Nicolas Mahut and two with Michael Llodra – both French players.
The French number three has a 4-0 record in Davis Cup, recently beating Feliciano Lopez in straight sets and beating the Lopez/Verdasco doubles team with Michael Llodra to help France clinch a 5-0 victory over the Spaniards.
Gilles Simon – World Number 33
Gilles made a huge impact on the ATP tour in 2008 where he famously beat Roger Federer at the Rogers Cup, moving into the top 15 for the first time. He continued to play well on the American hard courts, battling Juan Martin del Potro for almost 4 hours over 5 sets, eventually losing their 3rd round match.
Still on the hard courts, he made a run to the finals in Madrid, beating an ailing Nadal before falling to Andy Murray. When he secured a spot in the Masters Cup in the same year (after Nadal withdrew) Simon again beat Federer before losing to Murray and beating Stepanek. He managed to qualify for the semi’s with his impressive result, moving up to number 7 for the first time.
Simon remained a consistent face in the top ten for much of 2009 before injuring his knee in the 2009 USO which he irritated in Paris, limping through a match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Simon has struggled to recover from his knee injury but has recently started playing regular tournaments.
Llodra has also had some recent success in Davis Cup along with Benneteau. He claimed an impressive rubber against Fernando Verdasco in four sets. While Llodra hasn’t made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam he seems to have found his form in the last few months, winning Eastbourne, reaching the finals of Bordeaux and the quarterfinals of Queens where he lost to Mardy Fish.
Also this year Llodra won a title in Marseille when he defeated Benneteau in the finals and Robin Soderling in the quarters.
Richard Gasquet – World Number 46
After winning the mixed doubles French Open title in 2004 Gasquet had his breakthrough year in 2007 in both singles and doubles. He reached the quarters in Monte Carlo and the finals in Estoril. He then achieved his best ever Grand Slam result, reaching the semi’s at Wimbldedon where he took down Tsonga and Mahut before scalping Roddick in the quarters, eventually losing to Federer.
For much of 2008 Richard struggled to maintain any consistent form.
The most notable event in Gasquet’s 2009 career occurred in May in Miami where he tested positive for cocaine, allegedly after kissing a woman in a night club. Despite being suspended while he was investigated and eventually cleared, Gasquet made a comeback, citing the support of Rafa Nadal as the most significant he received in his time off.
In 2010 Gasquet has shaken off the rust and started to play well again. He defeated Verdasco to take the title in Nice, beat Llodra to win Bordeaux, was a finalist in Sydney and a quarterfinal in Belgrade.