If there was ever going to be a man in the hot seat in tennis, it was the Frenchman who had to carry the torch as the careers of arguably the greatest crop of talent his country has produced inevitably waned.
And that is the lot of Lucas Pouille. At the moment, he is carrying it alone.
It’s exceedingly rare that a country can produce a cluster of top-10 players in the same generation.
The U.S. had Sampras, Courier and Chang. Canada may – some day – have Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.
Switzerland has had Federer and Wawrinka. Belgium had Clijsters and Justine Henin. Serbia had Ivanovic and Jankovic.
But the French had Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils and Gilles Simon – all as different from one another as can be, all reaching the top 10.
They haven’t (and likely won’t) pull through on a major title. But you can argue that having such a pool of talent, so visible every week, will do as much for the growth of tennis in your country as one great one.
Into that fray came … Pouille. No pressure, kid.
Just under a year ago, the then 23-year-old hit the top 10 for a brief moment, a few weeks after reaching the final in Dubai (without having to beat a top-20 player, it should be said).
The expectations are heavy. And the soft-spoken fellow is still learning to deal with them.
Other than in Davis Cup, Pouille defeated just one top-50 player the rest of the way (Philipp Kohlschreiber, No. 34). He lost to Denis (Kudla) and Dennis (Novak) and Yuki Bhambri. And he quickly fell out of the top 30.
In the offseason, he made a move that’s still considered radical in tennis: he hired a female coach. And so Amélie Mauresmo came on board.
There was an immediate bump: Pouille reached the Australian Open semifinals on the wave of an extremely friendly draw, before getting schooled by Novak Djokovic. But the tennis he displayed was a level up: bolder, more forward thinking.
He has only played one match since then, as he’s been struggling with a virus. And he opted not to defend his finalist’s points in Dubai, where he resides, but in Acapulco. And he withdrew from that event as well.
Currently ranked No. 22, he’ll drop about seven spots. But with basically nothing to defend at the two events at Indian Wells and Miami, with 2,000 points up for grabs, he can quickly make that up if he shows up healthy, rested and fit.
Currently at a career-high No. 20, the player from Georgia (the country, not the state) came on quietly in 2018 at a relatively mature age.
He played great tennis at the right times, winning his first two career titles at 500-level events.
Basilashvili went from the qualifying to the title in Hamburg. And then in the fall he won Beijing, traditionally a high-quality tournament. He dropped just one set that week, beating Juan Martin del Potro in the final. All of that without cracking much of a smile.
The Georgian also won matches on the grass (although not at Wimbledon), and reached the fourth round of the US Open before falling to Rafael Nadal. So in his 12th year as a pro, he showed he can win regardless of where he’s playing.
Seeded at both Doha and the Australian Open, Basilashvili lost to Djokovic in Doha and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Melbourne. He will save energy this year by not having to qualify for the big tournaments. But he also will have to prove himself all over again. Losing early in Sofia (to No. 180 Daniel Brands in a match he appeared to be at less than 100 per cent) and to Marton Fucsovics in Rotterdam isn’t a great start.
No picnic in Dubai, where he drew Karen Khachanov in the first round.
Sukova had a long, productive career that landed her in the International Tennis Hall of Fame a year ago.
She played Wimbledon 18 times, the Australian Open 16 times. And she was one of the rare six-footers out there at the time, along with Pam Shriver.
Sukova won 10 singles titles and 68 doubles titles in all playing with numerous partners, starting with another tall one, Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of Germany.
At the end, it was Martina Hingis. She won Wimbledon with Hingis in 1996.
She also won five mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, three with her brother Cyril, two with Aussie Todd Woodbridge.
Sukova won the Canadian Open in 1986, and reached a high of No. 4 in singles and No. 1 in doubles (in 1990). She actually has a web site.
There are some great classic photos on it, including shots of she and doubles-playing brother Cyril when they were just little ones.
Of late, Sukova has worked some with countrywoman Katerina Siniakova. She has a doctorate in philosophy and works as a psychologist in Prague.
She got to No. 304 in the world back in 2005.
After she hung up the racquet, she got into bodybuilding for awhile. But it seems it was just a phase.
She’s currently with Tennis Australia, trying to mold the next generation of Aussie stars. Her official title is National Academy and Talent Development Manager for the New South Wales region.
Among other things. She posts her resumé like so: Mother, wife, tennis coach, manager, well-being ambassador, presenter, commentator, personal trainer and remedial massage therapist.
Hewitt also got some attention back in the day when she dated former Swedish tennis hottie Joachim Johansson – which was fun when he played against her brother in the US Open semifinals in 2004 (big bro won in straight sets).
Even though the pro career didn’t really happen (after having been a top-50 junior), she remained fodder. This Aussie tabloid story chronicles her marriage to some Aussie actor/stand-up comedian dude her parents disapproved of so highly, they didn’t even show for the wedding. But they’re still going strong.
Hewitt-Shehadie and her brother even reunited on court at the Kooyong Classic this year, along with the Tomics and other brother-sister pairs.
Great to see team Hewitt take to the court again at the Sydney International. Check out the cross court winner! #proud @JaslynHewitt @lleytonhewitt @TennisAustralia @SydneyTennis @TennisTV @yonex_tennis @touchtennis @wwos @dailytelegraph @FOXSportsNews @TennisChannel pic.twitter.com/G80W5gnbx6
— Rob Shehadie (@robshehadie) January 7, 2019
Just another cautionary tale about what happens to the other siblings in a family when the parents are a little obsessed with the more successful one. But things seem to have turned out well in the end.
Here’s a podcast wth her where she talks about a rather eventful life in the spotlight.
She never won a WTA Tour event, but won seven singles and three doubles titles on the minor-league ITF circuit.
Randriantefy also competed in the Olympics in 1992, 1996 and 2004.
Her last match was a three-set loss to Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekhistan at the 2006 Australian Open.
“Fast Eddie” Dibbs reached No. 5 in the world in 1978, and won 22 singles titles, remarkable when you think of the players in that era (Borg, McEnroe, Connors, et al).
Especially a guy from Brooklyn who officially stood 5-foot-7.
He looks to have picked up the leftovers, winning a lot of smaller events, although he did triumph in Toronto in 1978.
Dibbs won at least one title a year from 1973 to 1981. He was a classic grinding dirtballer who reached the semi-finals of the French Open in 1975 and 1976.