The world of tennis has been blessed with many great French players over the years. Their flair, skill, and personalities have added hugely to the game and continue to do so today.
As the French Open, one of the most prestigious tournaments is held annually in Paris, it’s no surprise that France has produced some of the game’s top players in history. Today, we have created a list of the top 10 French tennis players of all time – both men and women – to help you understand and appreciate the achievements of these legendary players. As always this is a list that will be debated and there are many French players who over the years have been epic in their own right.
History of French Tennis:
Tennis was introduced to France in the 12th century and quickly became a popular sport. Over the years, France established itself as one of the top nations in the sport, thanks in part to the establishment of the French Tennis Federation in 1920. The Federation has played a vital role in developing players and hosting championships, such as the French Open, which is one of the four Grand Slam events. French tennis players have won numerous titles, and some have left their mark on the game. From Yannick Noah to Mary Pierce, French tennis has produced a rich mix of champions.
So, who are the ten best French tennis players of all time? Here’s our list:
Yannick Noah is undoubtedly one of the most iconic French tennis players in history. Born on May 18, 1960, Noah remains the last Frenchman to win the French Open, a feat he accomplished in 1983. His powerful and agile playstyle, coupled with his charismatic personality, made him a favorite among fans.
In his illustrious career, Noah reached a career-high ATP ranking of No. 3 in July 1986. He also won numerous titles, including 23 singles and 16 doubles. Besides his French Open victory, he won the prestigious Rome Masters in 1985 and was the runner-up at the Monte Carlo Masters in the same year.
Off the court, Noah is known for his successful music career and his philanthropic efforts. He founded the “Fête le Mur” association, which aims to introduce tennis to underprivileged children. He was also named the national icon of France in a 2010 poll, illustrating the lasting impact of his dynamic career in tennis and beyond.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, born April 17, 1985, is another esteemed name in French tennis history. He recently retired from the tour and was known for his aggressive playing style and powerful serve, Tsonga climbed to a career-high ATP ranking of No. 5 in February 2012. His high-energy performances on the court have earned him several victories, including 17 singles titles.
One of Tsonga’s most notable achievements was reaching the Australian Open final in 2008, which marked his breakthrough in professional tennis. Although he finished as a runner-up, this tournament set the stage for his future success in the Grand Slam events. Tsonga also enjoyed victories in Masters titles, including the Paris Masters in 2008 and the Canada Masters in 2014.
Away from tennis, Tsonga is known for his charismatic personality, laid-back style, and sportsmanship, earning him popularity among fans worldwide. An interesting fact about Tsonga is his likeness to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, which has earned him the nickname “Ali Tsonga”. His engaging personality and undeniable talent make Tsonga a key figure in French tennis history.
René Lacoste, born July 2, 1904, was a renowned French tennis player and the namesake of the globally recognized Lacoste brand. Known as “The Crocodile” for his tenacity on the court, Lacoste dominated the sport in the 1920s, becoming the World No. 1 player in 1926 and 1927.
Lacoste’s major achievements include winning seven Grand Slam singles titles, three at the French Championships (1925, 1927, 1929) and four at Wimbledon (1925, 1928) and the U.S. Championships (1926, 1927). He was also a prominent member of the French team that took home the Davis Cup in 1927 and 1928.
Off the court, Lacoste left an indelible mark on the world of fashion. He was the first to introduce the polo shirt in the realm of tennis, trading in the traditional long-sleeved button-down shirt for a more comfortable and practical short-sleeved version. The iconic crocodile logo of Lacoste’s brand pays homage to his nickname in the tennis world. His innovative vision for athletic wear revolutionized the industry, blending style and functionality seamlessly. Lacoste’s incredible career in tennis and his transformative impact on sportswear fashion make him a legendary figure in French history.
Born on December 14, 1901, Henri Cochet was an exceptional French tennis player, renowned for his skill and agility on the court. Cochet achieved World No. 1 player status in 1928 after a series of impressive victories, solidifying his place in tennis history.
Cochet’s major accomplishments include winning seven Grand Slam singles titles. He emerged victorious four times at the French Championships (1922, 1926, 1928, 1930) and three times at Wimbledon (1927, 1929, 1932). Additionally, Cochet was part of the illustrious French team that clinched the Davis Cup four times consecutively from 1927 to 1930.
Beyond his accolades, Cochet was known for his unique playing style. He was famously ambidextrous, a rarity in tennis, which gave him an advantage over his opponents. Cochet was also part of the famous “Four Musketeers” of French tennis, along with Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, and René Lacoste. The quartet dominated the tennis world in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Cochet’s remarkable career and unique skills make him a standout figure in the annals of French tennis.
The only current player still playing on this list, Gaël Monfils, born on September 1, 1986, is a dynamic French tennis player known for his incredible athleticism and crowd-pleasing style of play. Monfils reached his highest ATP singles ranking of World No. 6 in November 2016, an achievement marking him as one of France’s top tennis talents in the modern era.
Monfils has had a successful career with several big tournament wins to his name. His impressive record includes winning 10 ATP singles titles, with his most significant victory coming at the 2016 Paris Masters. In Grand Slam tournaments, Monfils’s best performances have seen him reach the semi-finals at the French Open in 2008 and the US Open in 2016.
Beyond his wins and rankings, Monfils is a captivating character on the tennis scene. Known for his exuberant personality and showman’s flair, he often engages the crowd with his high-energy performances and acrobatic shot-making. Monfils is also an avid basketball fan and is famous for incorporating elements of the sport into his training routine. His entertaining approach to the game, combined with his significant achievements, solidifies his place as a notable figure in French tennis history.
Mary Pierce, born on January 15, 1975, is a former professional tennis player who is a prominent figure in the history of French tennis. Pierce is celebrated for her powerful playing style and aggressive baseline game, which earned her two Grand Slam singles titles and a career-high ranking of World No. 3 in 1995.
Pierce’s major accomplishments include winning the Australian Open in 1995 and the French Open in 2000 – becoming the first French woman to win the title in her home country since 1967. In addition to her singles success, Pierce also secured two Grand Slam titles in doubles and reached the final of the mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 2005.
Interesting facts about Mary Pierce include her unique multicultural heritage as she is French-American, born in Canada, and has represented France in her professional career. Despite facing many injuries throughout her career, Pierce is known for her resilience and determination. Pierce is still active in the game today and works as a commentator at some of the major tournaments.
Suzanne Lenglen, born on May 24, 1899, was an iconic figure in the world of tennis. Known for her flamboyant and daring style, she dominated the sport in the early 20th century. Lenglen held a World No. 1 ranking for seven consecutive years from 1921 to 1926.
During her illustrious career, Lenglen won a total of 31 Championship titles, including six Wimbledon singles titles and two Olympic gold medals in singles and mixed doubles. Her stunning victory in the 1920 Wimbledon Championship, defeating her opponent 6–4, 6–3 in just 23 minutes, remains one of her most notable triumphs.
Interesting facts about Suzanne Lenglen include her introduction of a new playing style, combining power and accuracy with flamboyance and speed.
Known for her theatricality, she was also one of the first female players to wear daring outfits on the court, often consisting of knee-length skirts and sleeveless tops which was unheard of at the time.
Her game revolutionized women’s tennis and brought about a new, more aggressive approach to the sport. Lenglen’s influence continues to resonate in the modern game, solidifying her legacy as a pathbreaker in women’s tennis.
Amélie Mauresmo, born on July 5, 1979, is a distinguished figure in professional tennis. Born in France, Mauresmo made a striking impact in the world of tennis, becoming World No. 1 in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings on September 13, 2004, a position she held for a total of 39 weeks.
During her illustrious career, Mauresmo has two Grand Slam titles to her name: the Australian Open and Wimbledon, both won in 2006. She has also been a finalist at the Australian Open in 1999 and at the US Open in 2002.
She is one of the few openly LGBTQ+ players in professional tennis. She publicly came out as gay at the age of 19. Furthermore, her coaching success post-retirement is also notable; she coached top players like Andy Murray, making her one of the few women to coach a top male player. Amélie is currently the director of Roland Garros, a role she will hold until 2024.
Her approach to the game, both as a player and coach, and her openness about her personal life have made a significant impact on the tennis world, contributing to her lasting legacy.
Marion Bartoli, born on October 2, 1984, in Le Puy-en-Velay, France, is a former professional tennis player renowned for her unconventional playing style. Bartoli reached the pinnacle of her career in 2013 when she triumphed at Wimbledon, earning her first and only Grand Slam title. Known for her unique two-handed forehand and backhand, she achieved a career-high ranking of No. 7 in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) standings in 2012. Bartoli’s career boasts 8 WTA titles and a total of 490 wins against 225 losses.
Beyond her impressive stats, Bartoli is recognized for her intense focus and determination, known to train rigorously with her father, Dr. Walter Bartoli, who was also her coach.
She is celebrated for her intellectual pursuits off the court, as she is fluent in French, Italian, and English and has shown interest in art and fashion. After retiring in 2013 due to persistent injuries, Bartoli has remained a fixture in tennis, lending her expertise as a commentator and analyst for various networks.
Nathalie Tauziat, born on October 17, 1967, in Bangui, Central African Republic, is a former professional tennis player from France. Tauziat is best known for reaching the Wimbledon final in 1998, the pinnacle of a career that included a dozen Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) titles and a career-high ranking of No. 3 in the world in 2000. With a career tally of 606 wins and 306 losses, she was a formidable opponent on the court.
A master in doubles as well, Tauziat won the 2001 Wimbledon Women’s Doubles title and reached the finals in three other Grand Slam doubles events. Off the court, she is known for her book “The Underside of Women’s Tennis,” controversial for its candid look at the professional tennis world. Post-retirement, Tauziat remained involved in tennis as a coach, notably guiding Canadian player Bianca Andreescu to her US Open victory in 2019.
In conclusion, French tennis has gifted us with some of the game’s most remarkable players. These players have left a lasting impact on the sport and their country, inspiring generations of aspiring players. Our list of the ten best French tennis players includes legendary names like Suzanne Lenglen, Yannick Noah, and Rene Lacoste, who have all excelled at the sport in their unique way.
Today the French still represent a strong presence on the circuit and boast 3 players inside the world’s top 50 on the ATP Tour, but no one inside the top 30. On the women’s side, Caroline Garcia is one of only 2 French women inside the top 50 on the WTA. Where will the next French tennis legend come from? Watch this space.