Yannick Noah, the charismatic Frenchmen whose win at the 1983 French Open will be replayed ad-nauseum over the next three weeks, is 50 years old. The dread-locked swash-buckler was born May 18, 1960 in Sedan, France. The following is his biography as it appears in THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com)
The kid looked like a tennis prospect, but he was a long way from anywhere that tennis meant anything. And he didn’t have a racket. Just a board that he’d fashioned into the shape of a racket. It was 1971 in Yaounde, Cameroon, West Africa, and a lucky day for 11-year-old Yannick Simone Camille Noah because Arthur Ashe was in town, stopping by on a U.S. State Department good will tour.
So here were two future Hall of Famers, meeting for the first time, at a tennis demonstration, Ashe presiding. Learning that Noah was a French citizen, born May 18, 1960, in Sedan, France, of a French mother and a professional soccer-playing Cameroonian father, Ashe was impressed by the very athletic-looking kid. Arthur gave Yannick a racket, wondering if he would like to get some help with his tennis. Yes. Thus, Ashe contacted his friend (also a future Hall of Famer), Philippe Chatrier, head of the French Tennis Federation, recommending that Noah get proper coaching. Zip! He was whisked off to Paris, eventually to become the most popular French player since the Four Musketeers (Borotra, Brugnon, Cochet, Lacoste) were winning the Davis Cup, 1927-32.
Growing to 6-foot-4, 190 lbs, Yannick was a menacing foe, a carefree, acrobatic volleyer who sought the net regardless of surface. Could he break the overly long French drought in Paris? Oui! After 37 dry years, going back to Marcel Bernard’s 1946 triumph over Jaroslav Drobny, Yannick evicted Mats Wilander from the throne room in 1983, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3). He was three parts rolled into a delightful one: French, African, the last to win a major with a wooden racket.
An emotional, inspirational figure, he fired France to two Davis Cup finals: first, 1982, as leading player (winning 6 of 8 singles); second, 1991, as captain, convincing left-handed long-shots Guy Forget and infirm Henri Leconte that they could upset the U.S. anchored by Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
Although John McEnroe was too much for young Noah & Co. to deal with in 1982, Yannick’s strong influence fueled the 3-1 ambush of 1991, busting another drought, 59 years between Cups for France. He captained one more Davis Cup in 1996, France over Sweden, 3-2. Then, transferring his leadership talents to his countrywomen, Yannick guided France’s first Federation Cup conquest, a 4-1 defeat of Netherlands in the 1997 final.
He is now a well-known singer, composer entertainer in Europe. His 7-foot son, Joakim Noah, was a basketball All-American for the University of Florida (helping the Gators win the NCAA title in 2006 and 2007) and now a member of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.
With Leconte, Yannick won the French doubles in 1984 over Czechs Pavel Slozil and Tom Smid, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. But, with Forget, he lost the French of 1987 to Anders Jarryd and Robert Seguso 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, and, with Leconte, the U.S. of 1986, to Ken Flach and Seguso, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (8-6), 6-0.
Charging and daring would-be passers on clay, as he had at Roland Garros, he won the 1985 Italian over Miloslav Mecir, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), and the 1983 German over Jose Higueras, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-0. On a hard court in 1982, he won Palm Springs [Calif.] by shuttting down No. 1 Ivan Lendl’s 44-match winning streak, 6-4,3-6, 6-2.
Noah crashed the world’s Top 10 at No. 9 in 1982, and stayed there for five more years straight in this order: Nos. 5, 10, 7, 4, 8. He turned pro in 1978 and won 23 singles titles, 15 doubles titles and $3,440,660 in prize money
MAJOR TITLES (2)—French singles, 1983; French doubles, 1984. DAVIS CUP—11 years, 26-15 singles, 13-7 doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Australian (11-6), French (40-12), Wimbledon (6-6), U.S. (28-11)