"But where is it? Does anyone know where Yannick is?"
It is two o'clock in the afternoon and in the organization of Roland Garros there is a certain nervousness. The show starts in half an hour and, at the moment, there is not the slightest trace of Noah, although the concern is relative in reality. "He hasn't said anything and he hasn't come yet... But it's Yannick, and we all know how he is, how he spends it. It will appear, surely at some point it will appear. Without him there is no concert!" a tournament employee told this newspaper. The passing of the minutes ends up proving him right and on stage, barefoot and with a retro visor, he wields the Noah microphone, who sings, jumps, runs and shakes the central of Paris. At a certain moment, he is joined by Mats Wilander, another old rocker, the other half of that episode that now remembers France with as much pride and joy as nostalgia: Yannick, a before and after for French tennis. Not a single man has been crowned in a great since he did it in 1983, forty years after that; yes several women, from Amélie Mauresmo to Marion Bartoli, passing through Mary Pierce, but nobody in the male territory of the ATP.
Remember the story that Noah (Sedan, France; 63 years old) did that June 5 in which he surrendered to the Nordic Wilander, the champion of the previous edition. 6-2, 7-5 and 7-6(3), the Jamaican flag on his right wrist – "for the love he felt for Bob Marley" – and an endless embrace with his father Zacharie, a modest Cameroonian footballer who emigrated in search of another life and who jumped from the stands to the sand. "I dreamed about it, when I was 16 I slept for a year in that stadium. It was my home, it was my moment", rewinds the French before the journalists, grateful for the depth of his speech and the richness of the reflections. It's Noah, you know; Much more than a tennis player. The last bohemian of the racket. The navigator, the reggae, the rasta; the poet who descended from time to time into hell; the guy with a politically incorrect speech, another symbol of that multiracial France, pride of the country's large minorities.
INTERVIEW (6/6/17) | "This world is very scary"
"It's the first time I've sung here, on the Chatrier; I feel more comfortable with the racket... I'm going on tour shortly. When I lost playing, I said I was a singer, and when I screw up on stage, I say I'm a tennis player. My career as a musician has lasted much longer than as a player," he jokes. "Every 10 years, I usually remember that I was a tennis player. And now I remember that victory, which was very special, because no Frenchman had won a Grand Slam in 37 years and since then nobody has achieved it again, "he continues, acknowledging that today he hardly follows his sport because simply, the current game does not end up finding it too attractive. "I don't know their names, and if I had to recognize them here and now, say who they are, I couldn't. A few years ago I followed [Ugo] Gaston and I know then [Ugo] Humbert arrived... But little else," he replies, referring to the current representatives of French tennis.
Noah, during a recent performance on the Chatrier.AFP7 via Europa Press (AFP7 via Europa Press)
Currently, Noah lives between Paris and the district of Etoudi (Cameroon), where he grew up from 2 to 12 years old; located 7,000 kilometers from Roland Garros. There he serves as a traditional chief, having inherited his father's title after his death in 2017. "I have been French-Cameroonian since day one. I have been living here and abroad for 50 years. I've done my whole career in France and I have all my friends in France. But at some point in my life, I felt the need to go back there [Cameroon] to discover the other part of me, my African roots. It is very enriching. I am very happy to be able to live this double culture in my life, "he appreciates these days, in which the organization of the tournament pays tribute to him and the French evoke his feat, the victory against Wilander and also the previous triumph against the very tough Ivan Lendl in the semifinals.
A "gifted physicist"
"He had to deal with him, McEnroe, Edberg, Becker ...", Emilio Sánchez Vicario, who measured himself twice with him, tells this newspaper; one in Stockholm (1985) and the other, precisely, in the Bois de Boulogne (1988); lost in Sweden and won in Paris. "He was physically gifted, and that's where he made a difference. It had a structure similar to that of Nadal or Jordan, of fast fibers; It covered a lot of track, it was a wall in the net and posed battles, a war, but it lacked background play and definitive blows to overflow. The rest of the French lacked strength and had too much technique, and in their case it was the other way around. That's why he only won that Roland Garros [his only major]. It was the maximum expression of the physique and in sport, and when you depend so much on your physique, if the training goes down it also reduces the performance; He was interested in other things, and he was losing competitiveness, "continues the Spaniard.
Manolo Orantes agrees. "He was very strong, very aggressive. Then it was still played with very heavy rackets and it was not easy to move the ball; As such, he had an extra. He volleyed very well. If I had had a different mentality I would have won bigger. He liked dancing, music... I had other concerns beyond tennis. And it was a little bit left, so to speak; in that sense, he resembled Nastase. I could have gone much further, because discipline in our sport is fundamental," the 1975 US Open and Masters champion told EL PAÍS; three times they met, 2-1 in favor of Noah.
Noah, in the conference room of Roland Garros.AFP7 via Europa Press (AFP7 via Europa Press)
"He had a lot of charisma, he connected with the public. It was fresh air. As Carlos Alcaraz does now, he hooked. He generated emotions and pulled a lot of the public, aware that he could. Not since Arthur Ashe has there been a black player who stood out so much and had so much ambition. It was vindictive and a symbol. Has he ever been wrong...", clarifies Sánchez Vicario, referring to the ambiguous statements he made in his day about Spanish athletes, associating their successes with a "magic potion" and bringing up Operation Puerto [which uncovered a great doping plot in cycling, with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes at the direction]. Later, in an interview granted to this media during a veterans tournament in Marbella, he stressed his "respect" for the Mallorcan and claimed that he had never said anything against him. That same year, 2017, his son Joakim, then a player for the Chicago Bulls, was suspended 20 games for use of a banned substance.
The Code of Conduct
A free soul, Noah has professionally distanced himself from tennis and the current rigid operating system. As a player, in 1990 he put a stop to his career and then made some threats to return that ceased in 1996. He hung up the racket with 23 ATP titles and what he sees now, does not convince him. "Tennis, like society, has evolved," he introduces. "But the code of conduct has broken a lot of things," he said.
"I don't know any fans who liked McEnroe for his rest. John was rackets and screaming! Some adored him and others hated him, but he created an atmosphere and there was a bond that went beyond the game. There was also Connors... Now, even the press conferences are timed. When I go to see a tennis match, I go to see a show; If it lasts three and a half hours and the guys are putting balls in all that time, I get bored at half an hour, knowing as a player that hitting a ball twice in a row is crazy, I haven't done it in my life... I want something more, I want excitement, I want something else to happen. And then there's social media... What surprised me most negatively when I came back, after 20 years without being captain, were the phones and all that. I was surprised that everyone was so intoxicated by it. I wasn't prepared for it," Noah closes. Yesterday, today and forever, true to himself.
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