Alexandre Dalifard / Photo credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP 06:00, May 31, 2023The 2023 edition of Roland-Garros is marked by the 40th anniversary of Yannick Noah's victory at the France International. For the occasion, Europe 1, official radio of the tournament, went to Cameroon to meet the legend of French tennis who agreed to give himself to the microphone of Jacques Vendroux. He talks about his arrival in Nice
While the qualification phase for Roland-Garros began on May 22, the 2023 edition of the France International is special for Yannick Noah who will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his victory on the Parisian clay. For the occasion, Europe 1, official radio of the tournament, went to Cameron to meet the legend of French tennis and dedicates a podcast event in his honor. From his childhood in Africa, until his triumph at Roland-Garros, Yannick Noah confides at length to the microphone of Jacques Vendroux.
In this third episode, the French champion addresses a part of his life for which he keeps a painful and difficult memory. After a major injury to his father, who will have to stop his football career later, Yannick Noah's family moved to Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon. It was in this country that he discovered tennis and was noticed by the American Arthur Ashe, the first black player to win a Grand Slam tournament. A meeting that will change his destiny and push him to fly to Nice and participate in an intensive tennis training under the leadership of Patrice Beust. An exile in France painful for Yannick Noah.
"A painful journey for a 12-year-old kid"
"The trip was very painful for a 12-year-old kid," admits the former French tennis champion. At the time, he arrived alone in Marignane with only a handwritten paper that told him the instructions to follow. This is where a small journey begins for him. From this city in the south of France, he had to take the bus to go to the Saint-Charles station in Nice to finally walk to the Imperial Park. A last difficult ride in full climb. "Back then, suitcases didn't have wheels. Now we all have wheels. But when you leave with all your equipment, your books, your photo albums, your tennis and school outfits... It was super heavy for me, I was very frail. I had to stop 100 times, I was in pain everywhere and suddenly I arrive in front of the college of Imperial Park. It was majestic," he told Europe 1.
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As soon as he arrived, Yannick Noah was awaited by the other residents. "They help me with my suitcase and then I arrive at the dormitory where all the guys were waiting for me. You have to know that they were 14 or 15 years old while I was 12. It's a bit of a surprise, but right away the big brothers. Inevitably, we give you the last bed, it's a good war, then a young person welcomes me by saying 'Bamboula' (laughs). But no, very well received, "says the winner of Roland-Garros 1983. On site, Yannick Noah finds himself under the orders of Patrice Beust alongside Dominique Bedel and the champions of France minimes and cadets.
Targeted by hazing
With his new coach, a bond was immediately created. "He spoke to me like a child, knowing that my parents were on the other side of the world. So, in his tone, there was affection right away. The first thing I liked about Patrice Beust was that he was already like an uncle. There was this emotional side that was essential and that's what allowed me to stay," he admits. In addition to this support, Yannick Noah was able to count on the support of the pension steward. Named Robert Clément, this gentleman considered the boarders as his children. "He was like a second dad too. So I was lucky to have this affection at that time in my life, this kid completely uprooted, half lost with his racket, "he rejoices at the microphone of Jacques Vendroux.
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Being the new resident, younger than the others, Yannick Noah was the target of hazing. "I was hazed the way it was done, so you don't ask yourself too many questions. On top of that, I couldn't turn around. I did not dare to go and talk to Patrice Beust or the intendant. For me that meant I wasn't strong if I was going to complain. And in the end, it's humiliation," he said. If today Yannick Noah can put words on these feelings, at the time, he could not go further than emotions. "But in those emotions, I know there was something in me that said, 'You're going to see, one day I'm going to slaughter you,'" he recalls.
The influence of his friend Pierrot
For his first vacation, Yannick Noah returns to Cameroon for three and a half months. "I didn't want to come back to France. Too many whites, too cold, too lost and the canteen food too rotten. I love them all but I didn't want to come back," he said. Despite the love for the Nice Lawn Tennis Club (LTC) and this family atmosphere, Yannick Noah admits that it was a relative who convinced him to stay. "When you have a friend in boarding school, it's like in the army or in war. And I was actually at war and my friend Pierrot was like my brother," he recalls.
When he left, Yannick Noah explained to his resident friend that he was going to leave the band. "It's good hazing and all that, I'm going home," he told her. "If you don't come back, I don't come back either. On the other hand, if you come back, I'll come back," his friend Pierrot reportedly replied.