French favourites gunning for glory

French players at top of the game eager to perform at their peak in Paris.

Lucas Pouille© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The depth of French tennis continues to court jealousy.

The home ranks at Roland-Garros are a formidable unit, with a plethora of players among the upper echelons of the sport. 

Scanning the rankings, there are seven Frenchmen in the Top 50, who are joined by five compatriots in the WTA Top 100.

The French Davis Cup squad lifted the 2017 title, before falling in last year’s final. In Fed Cup the French have competed in an astonishing 51 consecutive seasons in the World Group and have advanced to the 2019 final - their second final in four years.

However, this sustained success hasn’t quite transferred to singles glory at Roland-Garros. Mary Pierce lifted the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen in 2000, while the wait for a male champion goes back further to Yannick Noah’s 1983 heroics.

Here are the home charges hoping to launch into title contention at Roland-Garros in 2019.

Pouille providing promise

Back in March 2018 Lucas Pouille’s all-court creativity saw him grace the Top 10.

His groundstrokes pack a punch and he can canvass the net with aplomb, which makes it more surprising his finest French Opens have been brief 2017 and 2018 trips into the third round.

Far from wilting under the chorus of home support, world No.25 Pouille insists it is an inspiration.

“It's pure happiness to play in front of this crowd, they have always been more than incredible with me. They have always supported me from beginning to end. It's a real pleasure to come back to play in France, and even more on the Philippe-Chatrier court,” said the 25-year-old, who confirmed his resurgence with an Australian Open semi-final in January.

“This (crowd) resets the counters to zero. It can help to play better, to give that extra energy.”

Remember, Pouille won the decisive rubber in the 2017 Davis Cup final. He’d surely relish similar scenes at Roland-Garros.

Garcia gaining ground on home soil

In her first seven attempts at Roland-Garros Caroline Garcia wrestled with the pressure and intensity of flying the French flag.

"They always want you to win the French Open, and obviously it's something I want to do, but it's not as easy as saying 'hello' to someone," said world No.24 Garcia last summer. “It’s a great challenge but I think I can do better.”

The recent campaigns have proven ‘Caro’ is adjusting to the Parisian limelight. The 2016 women’s doubles title partnering Kristina Mladenovic provided the platform for a quarter-final in 2017 and fourth-round result last year.

“I have experienced a lot of things at Roland-Garros and this is helping me,” said Garcia, who doesn’t appear hampered by the expectations. Caro in full flight could bring local delight with another second week journey.

Monfils the magician

The beaming grin from Gael Monfils every time he hits an audacious shot says it all. The world No.16 flourishes playing with freedom, striking the trick shots, soaring with acrobatic net play, whilst stretching every sinew in defence. He’s a supreme athlete, rapid from corner to corner.

Such entertainment routinely has the Roland-Garros faithful in raptures.

"For me the pressure is more helpful, definitely," said Monfils as France’s highest-ranked leading light. “No question about it for me. It always helps me ... Actually, it's much better that way.”

His home Grand Slam has been a pivotal place for Gael. The junior title in 2004 propelled him into prominence. His standout showing came in 2008 en route to the semi-finals, alongside three quarter-finals in Paris.

Very few can contain Monfils at his majestic best.

Mladenovic made for the big stage 

You could hear the roars of approval from the Court Suzanne-Lenglen crowd across the grounds.

Flashback to 2017 and Kristina Mladenovic, backed by ardent support in the stands, orchestrated her home contingent to help defeat defending Roland-Garros champion Garbine Muguruza.

The reward was a quarter-final ticket - the world No.54’s furthest French Open progress - and now Mladenovic has recruited renowned coach Sascha Bajin to rocket back up the rankings.

With 10 match wins already on the clay this season, this partnership is set to reignite Kiki’s resolve in the decisive moments.

Kristina Mladenovic enfants de Roland-Garros ERG 2018©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Alize at ease on the centre stage

Absorbing and animated, that’s Alize Cornet.

"I feel the pressure of Roland Garros and the pressure of the tournament and the fact that I want to do good," explained the world No.48. "There is a kind of magic on this (Philippe Chatrier) court and I feel it on every match, I love being out there."

Cornet would relish the opportunity to shine in the spotlight. Replicating her career-best of fourth-round finishes in 2015 and 2017 could produce some captivating contests.

Tsonga and co out to cause the upset

Incredibly, the pool of talent also includes Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet, Jeremy Chardy and Pierre Hugues-Herbert all within the Top 50, ready to shock a top seed on home soil.

Pauline Parmentier (No.65) and Fiona Ferro (No.88) are direct entrants and will give any player a stern test. Elsewhere, Benoit Paire - a champion on Saturday in Lyon - brings an abundance of firepower and flair at No.51.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has battled back from injuries and will be raring to go at Roland-Garros, the setting of two pulsating semi-final runs (2013/2015). No one quite connects with the crowd like Jo.

With some momentum, he could deliver another fascinating campaign in Paris.