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Yannick Noah: The last Frenchman to win Roland Garros

Yannick Noah turned as the ball sailed over his head and watched it land beyond the baseline.He sank to his kn...

Posted: Jun. 5, 2018 1:42 PM
Updated: Jun. 5, 2018 1:42 PM

Yannick Noah turned as the ball sailed over his head and watched it land beyond the baseline.

He sank to his knees and pumped his fists, exchanged a cursory handshake with his beaten opponent, Mats Wilander, before running into his father's arms.

His straight sets victory against Wilander -- the defending champion who was just 18 years old -- in 1983 certainly didn't go down as one of the all-time great finals, but none in Roland Garros history arguably have been more emotional.

The embrace with his father, Zacharie, who had watched his son leave his native Cameroon to train in France 10 years earlier as a 13-year-old, became one of the French Open's defining images.

READ: Rafael Nadal -- Why the 'King of Clay' reigns in Paris

READ: Serena Williams pulls out of French Open

"I'm really thankful that I've won my grand slam at home," Noah told CNN's Pat Cash. "I won, I practiced here, pretty much on this court, before the final.

"Then I go out and play and all my friends (were there), everywhere I look there are my friends and I could share this moment. It was complete and I think I got the energy from them."

Noah was the first Frenchman to win at Roland Garros for 37 years, and no Frenchman has lifted the trophy in the 35 years since.

It appears as though the drought won't end anytime soon, since the once golden generation of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon are nearing the end of their careers.

The French fans are notoriously passionate when it comes to supporting their compatriots on the red clay, with many suggesting it brings pressure the current players can't handle.

Noah, however, feels decidedly differently.

"I don't feel it," he says, shaking his head. "I feel it's love, man. And I mean, Jesus, people come and say they love you.

"Some people feel this way (pressure) but you are lucky enough to have a grand slam at home, you know? God, there are four.

"You have French, you have Australians, Americans and English but it's such a privilege. We practice in Roland Garros so you have all the dreams right here."

'King of Clay'

The man to beat this year, once again, is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard is going for a record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros having lost just two matches at the tournament throughout his career.

Noah had the privilege of watching the "King of Clay" up close during a training session and was left in awe of his prowess.

"I saw him practice ... it's fantastic. You wanna show all the kids ... this is the No. 1 in the world," said Noah.

"And because of that I think it's really good. I'm happy when he wins these days. It was not always the way, to tell you the truth. But now it's something different, man, you gotta give him respect, man. Crazy."

So how would Noah try to beat the seemingly unbeatable Nadal?

"I only play drop shots, only drop shots," he laughs. "You're going to miss points but I would serve underarm and every time I play drop shots.

"If he is at the net, I hit it straight at him," he quips. "You have to try something!"

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