Corentin Moutet: Poet in motion

 - Ian Chadband

Getting to know France’s exciting Next Gen player, who’s a very different personality.

Corentin Mouter Roland Garros 2019©Pauline Ballet / FFT

When Corentin Moutet, at just 19, caused his first major stir in tennis by knocking big Ivo Karlovic out in the first round of Roland-Garros last year, the teenage local hero was asked how he would celebrate. 

“Well, I won’t be going out to a nightclub to 6am, for sure,” the thoughtful young Parisian responded. A pause and smile then followed. “Only until 4am...”

Immediately, tennis scribes were being alerted to the idea that here was a young talent who was, well, just a bit different. They weren’t wrong; Moutet was part-poet, part-swashbuckler, a cerebral figure with a crazy side and very much a Next Gen prospect with a personality worth following.

When you’re 20, when you have the brainpower to accompany your athletic gift and when both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have had a hand in your development, no wonder France fancies he could be a potential star in the making.

Which brings us to the latest stage of Moutet’s breakthrough. At Roland-Garros on Friday, this young left-hander with all the shots is ready to take another leap on his rapid ascent of the men’s game. Already the youngest Frenchman to reach the third round here since Gael Monfils in 2006, if Moutet can beat Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero on Court 14, he’ll shoot into the world’s top 100 for the first time.

Although there are 10 of his compatriots already up there, eight of them are 28 or over, so some good judges believe France’s future hopes best lie with their two 20-year-olds, the 61st-ranked Ugo Humbert and No.110 Moutet.

The thing is that, in truth, no one ever knows quite what to expect from Moutet. Although very bright and a hugely accomplished pianist who likes to write his own poetry (some of which he serves up on his social media accounts), he’s also had a reputation of being hard to handle.

Known by his mates as ‘Co’, Moutet didn’t enjoy his school days and left at 16. “I didn’t like the fact that the teacher had authority over the students,” he once said in a an interview. “I didn’t like the fact that someone was teaching me something.”

Which probably accounted for his difficulties with various coaches. Now French tennis is agog to see if Emmanuel Planque, Lucas Pouille’s former mentor, can be the one to help him truly fulfil his gift. The initial signs here are certainly promising.

“Manu’s very demanding, and I need that.” Moutet explained. “Whatever happens in this tournament, we will continue whether I win or I lose.

“It's fantastic to be in the third round of Roland-Garros, of course, and it's also a good sign. It's a nice thing to be compared to great players like Gael,” Moutet added after his tough second-round triumph over experienced Argentine left-hander Guido Pella.

Corentin Moutet Roland Garros 2019©Pauline Ballet / FFT

Moutet’s two favourite poets may be Baudelaire and Rimbaud but when it comes to his tennis education, he probably couldn’t really go far wrong with following another childhood hero Nadal and the artist known as Federer.

He spent time last year in the Rafa Nadal Academy and also trained with Federer in Dubai.

“These were beautiful experiences,” he recalled. “Roger, who welcomed us in Dubai, was really a great help. So it's fantastic to have the support of these players, to have them helping me, and it was great to share, to observe. And these are the best players of all time so it's a fantastic experience.

“I tried to make the best of it, I tried to learn more than what I learn on an everyday basis from my coach.”

Of this 30-something brigade, who still rule the roost, Moutet said: “I'm not in their world. I don't play the same tournaments as they do. So for the time being, they are sources of inspiration. You can only draw from their career, their path, what they show every day. They are examples, different with different qualities. But it's a great inspiration.”

A bit like the progress of the philosopher prince Stefanos Tsitsipas, the ascent of this poet in motion Moutet is going to be fun to behold.