Romain Rouillard (interview by Jacques Vendroux) / Photo credit: AFP 14:00 p.m., June 02, 2023After his success against Mats Wilander in the final of Roland-Garros in 1983, Yannick Noah found himself in the spotlight, exposed to a certain pressure, especially from the media sphere. A delicate period for the Franco-Cameroonian who had other ambitions.
And Yannick Noah's entire life turned upside down. This June 5, 1983, day of consecration for the Franco-Cameroonian, winner of Mats Wilander in the final of Roland-Garros, marked the beginning of a new era for the former champion. That of media pressure, new expectations, criticism as well. At the microphone of Jacques Vendroux, in a new podcast, the interested party returns to this delicate management of notoriety, accompanied by a desire to relegate tennis to the background.
Because this epic dream on the Parisian clay sounded like an accomplishment for Yannick Noah. The end of the book, in a way. "When I won, it was complicated afterwards because I no longer had a dream. I didn't have that little thing anymore. In 1983 something might have been missing. But he didn't miss anything, there was everything," he reveals. Everything he had imagined he would achieve as a professional tennis player. Win a second trophy at Roland-Garros? Triumph elsewhere? "I didn't dream of it," Noah says.
"This notoriety, it was a completely abstract and superficial thing"
But meanwhile, expectations are growing around the new darling of French tennis. The pressure is intensifying and Yannick Noah does not mince his words to the media sphere. "I see journalists saying 'now we have to confirm'... But where do you get that stupid word from? Confirm what?" The first criticisms fuse but his love coast does not weaken. Enough to restart the machine? Not exactly. "Going to train for months with people who congratulate you is not easy. You have to be accompanied by someone who gives you the codes. We didn't have the codes, we discovered all that."
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A new notoriety after which Yannick Noah has never run. "I come from a small village in Cameroon where I couldn't afford my first racket. We always say 'don't forget where you come from'. And I couldn't forget it. That's why I always took it all as a gift and this notoriety, for me, it was a completely abstract and superficial thing. I didn't like this life at all, it didn't make sense."
"Tennis? Yes, but it's secondary."
Out of the question that the little yellow ball is the alpha and omega of his life. "At that moment, the 23-year-old kid I was like, 'Actually what I want now is a family.' I want kids. Tennis? Yes, but it is secondary. Tennis has become secondary in my life," he admits. Yannick Noah then met his future wife, Cecilia, and gave birth to his son Joakim, who became a basketball star, and his daughter Yéléna. Happy in his life, Yannick Noah also becomes less biting racket in hand. "I had everything I needed but inevitably, the inner warrior on the court was a little softer. He was more sensitive (...). I wasn't in survival at all."
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After this title at Roland-Garros, Yannick Noah still pocketed eight other trophies and reached the last four of the 1990 Australian Open. On the Parisian ochre, Mats Wilander took his revenge the following year, in the quarter-finals, and beat him again, at the same stage of the competition, in 1987.