Blancaneaux’s post-Roland-Garros path
In the six months that have gone by since he wrapped up the junior boys’ singles title at Roland-Garros, what has Geoffrey Blancaneaux been up to? The 18-year-old Parisian opened up to us about his new life on the professional circuit.
In a quirk of fate on this autumn morning at the French National Training Centre (CNE), based at Roland-Garros Stadium, almost six months to the day after Geoffrey Blancaneaux’s boys’ singles victory over Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime at Roland-Garros, the same man who ran down from the stands of No.1 Court to congratulate him, Yannick Noah, happened to walk by.
Waving and smiling broadly, the captain of France’s Davis Cup team passed on a quick word of encouragement to the 18-year-old Parisian (“See you soon, man, and good luck!”); like many other ex-players, he is likely to keep a careful eye on the progress of the first Frenchman to have won the junior title at Roland-Garros since Gaël Monfils in 2004.
Six months down the line, what has Geoffrey Blancaneaux been doing with himself? And how has his life changed?
Some things have stayed the same: “Geoff”, now ranked 624th in the world, is still determined to make a career out of tennis and continues to be coached by Cédric Raynaud, who has worked with him for the past two years. However, since 5 June 2016, the right-handed player, born in August 1998, has passed his secondary school exams, moved from the French National Institute of Sport (INSEP) to the CNE, and become part of a larger group made up of – aside from the familiar face of Raynaud – another player, Ugo Humbert, a physical trainer, Cyril Brechbuhl, and a second coach, Rodolphe Gilbert.
“Rodolphe has joined my team,” said Blancaneaux of the former world no. 61. “He’ll accompany me for a few weeks at tournaments during the year.” Raynaud added: “Rodolphe brings a lot of experience, and a different viewpoint. Geoffrey knew him at INSEP, and they got on well together.”
“Because I won at Roland-Garros, I’m coming at it from a different angle and others know who I am and want to beat me”
Being part of a more professional set-up makes a lot of sense, given that the US Open was Blancaneaux’s last juniors event and that he has now permanently stepped up to the “big leagues”. In the wake of Flushing Meadows, he decided to base himself close to where he famously emerged victorious in the spring.
“The first few weeks were a bit difficult,” he said. “I needed some time to adapt. But I’m doing better now, and things should go well [smile]. I’m here to work and to make progress. The pro circuit is a different world altogether. At junior level, we all knew each other; we knew how to play one another and what tournaments we were going to play in. Now I don’t know anyone, I’m the new guy. Although, because I won at Roland-Garros, I’m coming at it from a different angle and others know who I am and want to beat me.”
The problematic issue now facing Blancaneaux is finding a way to transform the “baggage” of that win into a valuable asset that can be used to his advantage rather than glorifying his achievement and running the risk of slowing up his development during this very different second stage of his tennis apprenticeship.
“I have really good memories from Roland-Garros,” he explained. “But I tell myself that it’s just one step of many. My goal now is to repeat that feat on the pro circuit.” He regularly discusses this question, as well as his aspirations, fears, goals and dreams, with Elise Anckaert, the sport psychologist with whom he had already worked at INSEP, in an attempt to break down mental barriers and put his emotions into words.
“They’re definitely pretty packed weeks, with 13 to 14 hours of physical work and up to 15 hours of tennis”
“First off, we took the time to put the new project in place, involving him, his family and the FFT [French Tennis Federation],” explained Raynaud. “What we’re looking for is a calm atmosphere. Geoffrey needs to give himself time – he has to be demanding and ambitious, but we have to be careful not to get too carried away. We need to plan well and get down to work.”
And working equates to, outside tournament times, a busy schedule. “Geoffrey does fitness work once or twice a day,” Raynaud continued. “He also has one to two tennis sessions per day. On top of that, once or twice a week, he has psychology sessions and meetings with us where we talk about tennis, video analysis, his objectives and his life. There’s also the medical side of things, two cryotherapy sessions per week, water therapy, physiotherapy etc. They’re definitely pretty packed weeks [smile], with 13 to 14 hours of physical work and up to 15 hours of tennis.”
The weeks may be busy, but they are, in fact, less hectic than at INSEP. “The pace is a little less relentless,” Blancaneaux admitted. “That’s because at INSEP you also had to deal with school and homework. So, yes, the days are intense and it was tough at the beginning, but overall it’s not too bad! In fact, you can take more time; everything’s calmer, and you can even stay on court and extend your sessions so as to perfect the little details.
Blancaneaux boasts a strong forehand but is also adept at varying things or even covering up deficiencies in his game. “I was a little bit weaker, physically speaking, than the others, but I’m starting to develop and catch up. We do a lot of practice rallies, a lot of fine-tuning, and we also spend quite a bit of time on tactics and technique: volleying, approaching the net, serving and returning. I’ve really been working a lot on those aspects,” he explained.
All of this training has one sole goal: replicating the same level of excellence during matches. This has not always been straightforward, as he found out at the Futures and Challengers tournaments in which he has competed over the past few months. He is not overly concerned, although accepting defeat is never a pleasant feeling.
Time, and his playing schedule in particular has now become his driving force. The end of this season and the start of 2017 are already planned out: he will take part in two Futures in Qatar, and then in two others in Hong Kong, before almost certainly trying his luck in Challengers in France. And after that? Everything will depend on his results; the target for 2017 is at least one victory in each of the two categories. “I know I’m capable of winning tournaments,” he said. “At some point it’s all going to click.”
“The plan is indeed to prepare him for Roland-Garros”
But in the back of his mind and that of his team, there is another objective, for which the countdown has already begun: Roland-Garros. The tournament in which, two weeks prior to his juniors triumph, Geoffrey Blancaneaux had already made a name for himself by knocking out Japan’s Hiroki Moriya – 600 places above him (218th compared to 802nd) in the world rankings – in the first qualifying round. “The plan is indeed to prepare him for Roland-Garros, so that he has a level of play that will enable him, if he gets a wild card for the qualifiers, to qualify, and if he gets a wild card for the main tournament, to compete in a five-set match,” confirmed Raynaud.
The coach concluded: “Having a set target like this will help him to get the idea into his head and will make each training session more meaningful. We don’t have any time to lose.” For Geoffrey Blancaneaux, everything, it seems, is a question of time.