Game in need of per­son­al­ity trans­plant

Leconte laments a lack of char­ac­ters

The Herald - Sport - - TENNIS - SU­SAN EGELSTAFF

IT’S a well-aired com­plaint these days that there are too few per­son­al­i­ties in sport. Where once there was a ta­pes­try of char­ac­ters from Muham­mad Ali to John McEn­roe, from Ge­orge Best to Paul Gas­coigne, the mag­netic ap­peal of the great en­ter­tain­ers has been re­duced by power and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

As we con­tem­plate the ar­rival of another Wim­ble­don, it would be re­miss not to re­call the great char­ac­ters who have done more than any num­ber of blis­ter­ing ser­vice re­turns to make the event iconic.

One of the most en­ter­tain­ing play­ers ever to set foot on a court was the French­man Henri Leconte. Now 51, he re­mains a big draw. Some would spec­u­late that his dou­bles an­tics on the se­nior tour and in ex­hi­bi­tion matches have made him more fa­mous than any of the ten­nis he played dur­ing his elite ca­reer.

He was pure theatre, and the loss of his ilk on the ATP Tour to­day is some­thing Leconte laments.

“Some­times I do think it’s a shame but that’s the way ten­nis is nowa­days,” he told Her­ald Sport dur­ing a visit to Scot­land. “Ten­nis has changed so much from when I played. The play­ers are so much more pro­fes­sional now so it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

“In my gen­er­a­tion, there were dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, the way we played ten­nis was dif­fer­ent and we en­joyed it. You do see it oc­ca­sion­ally now, the play­ers hav­ing fun – Gael Mon­fils can be like that, some­times Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga and even Novak Djokovic, but it isn’t easy.

“When you look at the way they play, the way they move, how hard they hit the ball – they are like ma­chines now.”

The lack of char­ac­ters in ten­nis to­day is some­thing that even the world’s lead­ing play­ers have lamented. World No.1 Djokovic said last year: “I think that ten­nis is lack­ing a lit­tle bit in per­son­al­i­ties, to be hon­est.

“Be­cause of the amount of tour­na­ments we play and, of course, the im­por­tance in the value of each match, you put your game face on when you’re on the court. You want to win.”

But he added: “On the other hand, it’s sport. Peo­ple come to sup­port the ten­nis, you as a player, but also they would like to see a lit­tle bit of your per­son­al­ity.”

It is tempt­ing to won­der what Leconte him­self feels when he is a spec­ta­tor. When asked, he ad­mit­ted he loves watch Roger Fed­erer play, as well as Andy Mur­ray and Leconte’s com­pa­triot, Mon­fils.

Leconte’s home coun­try has phe­nom­e­nal strength in depth when it comes to men’s sin­gles play­ers, more so in the days when he and Yan­nick Noah led the line.

But still he feels that more could be done in his coun­try to per­suade more chil­dren to take up the game.

Peo­ple come to sup­port the ten­nis, but they also like to see a lit­tle bit of your per­son­al­ity

“The prob­lem with French ten­nis is that we have a lot of good play­ers but we don’t have any­one in­side the top five or even the top 10 and we re­ally need that,” he says.

“If we had that, then the French peo­ple would look up to these play­ers and the kids would want to be like them so we re­ally need some­one to get into the top five in the world.”

LET RIP: Leconte likes to watch Roger Fed­erer, Andy Mur­ray and Gael Mon­fils but he wishes there was more theatre and per­son­al­ity in mod­ern ten­nis

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