Game in need of personality transplant
Leconte laments a lack of characters
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