Back to business: 3 (good) reasons for the pros to celebrate

 - Myrtille Rambion

Right now, France’s top players are relishing competing again on the French Riviera. What makes this series of tournaments so important?

The sound of the cicadas and the aroma of the pine trees make you feel like nothing else matters, at this very moment, other than enjoying the stunning views of the Esterel massif.

For this second week back on the circuit – for the Challenge Elite FFT, a mini summer tour comprising three tournaments organised by the French Tennis Federation – France’s best players have all converged in Cannes.

View on the ASLM Cannes Tennis club.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Here on the French Riviera, at the end of an intense week during which the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals followed three days of round-robin matches, Fiona Ferro notched up her second title running by defeating Kristina Mladenovic, a repeat of the previous week’s final in Nice. The two finalists had seen off two other World Champions (Alizé Cornet and Pauline Parmentier) in the semis.

In the men’s tournament, the draw featured top names such as Gilles Simon, Nicolas Mahut and Ugo Humbert, with the title going to Quentin Halys.

Though the third and final stage of this Challenge will be held this week coming, just a few kilometres from Cannes – in Villeneuve-Loubet, in the academy run by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and his coach Thierry Ascione – we look at what the players can take away from this return to competition, despite the lack of points at stake.

Getting back into the swing of things

A convivial atmosphere prevailed all around the club, on the restaurant terrace and by the practice courts, despite the strict respect of social distancing and hygiene measures. This was one of the things that the players most appreciated.

“It’s really nice to see people again,” says France’s No.6 Chloé Paquet. “We’re all happy to play in French clubs.”

Kristina Mladenovic adds, “We’re lucky to have received such a warm welcome from this great club and this lovely region. It’s really nice. Even though it’s not a Grand Slam, I try to imagine that I’m on a show court playing an important match.”

Gilles Simon at the gym in Cannes.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Honing their physique

“It really feels like I’m getting an intense workout in these matches,” explains Alizé Cornet. “I have to dig deep to get to the end each time.”

Playing match after match, while squeezing in training sessions and taking advantage of the wealth of top-class sparring partners, requires a fair amount of stamina. If you have lost your mojo – yes, even top-level athletes can suffer from lockdown lethargy! – this series will whip you back into shape in no time!

“Come on!” smiles Gilles Simon, “You can be a top-level athlete at 35, 25 or even 20! The pressure is not the same for everyone. The aim of a series – like these three tournaments – is to help us to get back into a rhythm where we can dive straight back into five days of competition, in the full glare of the sun.”

Getting used to competing again

“You can train for four months, but nothing can replace real competitions,” says Fiona Ferro. “We were dying to experience that feeling of coming up against an opponent who also wants to win.” Anyone who watched the week’s matches on the courts of ASLM Cannes Tennis club, including the round-robin matches, would agree with the Nice native. During this Challenge Elite FFT, every player is hungry for victory.

“Playing against the girls is great,” echoes Kristina Mladenovic. “I really enjoyed it, just playing a match, feeling the adrenaline, that feeling of battling with your opponent.“

Kristina Mladenovic warmin-up with her brother and coach Luka.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“The girls have nothing to lose so they give it their all, they let loose. And the better they play, the better it is for me in terms of training. It helps me stay focused, pushes me to raise my game.”

The idea behind all of this is to ensure the players are ready when the international tour starts up again. With two Challenge titles already under her belt, Fiona Ferro explains, “The aim is to stay on form so that we feel confident when we get back out on the tour.”