The Frenchman became a star - against all odds.

French tennis has been strong through the ages, and the colorful stars have succeeded each other. Arnaud Clement is one of them - against all odds.

Clement had just turned one and had been diagnosed with a serious eye disease that threatened to make him blind, and under the circumstances should have led to impaired vision.

He has been part of a Grand Slam final, taking a total of 16 ATP titles, and has also been part of the ranking's prestigious top-ten list. Clement has been in the Davis cup Finals as both a player and a captain. He has an amazing track record, set against the background of vision problems that have followed Clément’s career from the start.

When Clement appeared on the tour and whatever the weather was, he played in sunglasses though many fans thought it was a gimmick or PR thing. In fact, the Frenchman had to protect his eyes from bright light and when his fight against the disease became public knowledge, Clement won the greatest respect from opponents as well as the audience.

History has shown that the world loves an underdog. Clements background is certainly a big part of the reason why he is more popular than many of his more star studded countryman on the tennis tour. Another explanation is that Marcel Maurice Arnaud Clement is down to earth with no need for drama and with an open and friendly attitude towards the setting, which some of the sport's biggest stars’ regard as a necessary evil.

Maybe Clements approach to the media cost him a Grand Slam title. It is clear in any case that he did not come optimally prepared for the 2001 Australian Open final. Clement had on the way defeated Roger Federer, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Greg Rusedski. In the semi-final against countryman and friend Sebastien Grosjean, Clement saved two match points.

After previously not having ever gotten past the quarter-finals of the Grand Slam he now stood as the first French Australian Open finalist since Jean Borotra in 1928!

It was hysterical. Clement was on fire. He had the year before won the last two matches against his opponent Andre Agassi, in Lyon on the way to his first ATP title and at the US Open where he completely defeated the American (then ranked world number one). Everyone wanted to talk to Arnaud Clement during the days before the final in Melbourne. French media are always very well represented at the major tournaments and now the journalists wanted to have exclusive interviews to convey to their readers.

French freelance journalist George Homsi - which followed the international tennis scene for many years - says that Clement said yes to everything and everyone. The interviews followed one another, and the hours passed. While it certainly was flattering for Clement to get so much attention it was not the final momentum that Clement needed it to be.  

Agassi won in straight sets. Just as Thomas Enqvist two years earlier defeated Clement at Melbourne Park in his finals debut in the Grand Slam. The two are by the way in good company. Between 1999 and 2008 there were only seven players that at the Australian Open played thier first Grand Slam final and Thomas Johansson in 2002 was the only final debutant who took home the title.

The same year he went to the finals in Melbourne, Arnaud Clement contributed to France’s strong final show, not least when, after 15-13 in the fifth set against Marc Rosset gave his team the 1-0 lead in the quarter-final against Switzerland. Clement was not part of the final team who defeated Australia to earned their ninth and latest DC title.

Also, the year after Clement played an important role when France again went to the final. In the semifinal against the United States, he turned in the first match 0-1 against Andy Roddick. But Clement did not place on the final team this time around either. He did however, in 2010 when France met Serbia. Clement / Michael Llodra went 0-2 in the doubles against Viktor Troicki / Nenad Zimonjic which meant French were ahead 2-1 for the two singles finals where the Serbs were the strongest.

In total, Clement played 18 international matches in the Davis Cup, where he became known for being very loyal. Which very likely contributed to that after his career he was appointed DC captain for the French team. Quarter-finals, finals, quarter-finals became France's key for Clements leadership, before he was fired in 2015. The French Tennis Federation alleged that Clement failed to unify and motivate the players.

 The rift emerged after the 2014 final against Switzerland when Clement was criticized because he started with the injured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who just could not do himself justice at the time. The DC captain was appointed scapegoat even though Tsonga obviously had had every opportunity to say that he was not fit to play.

Arnaud Clement played his last professional match at Wimbledon in 2012. He then had a place among the world's 100 best ranked for ten of the last twelve seasons and at his best he was tenth on the list (2010).

 

He also had: 

  • Took four singles titles in eleven finals and twelve double titles in 22 finals, including at Wimbledon in 2007 with countryman Llodra as his partner. The images then the victorious French triumphed after throwing up their rackets, shirts and towels into the audience is a classic.
  • Played history’s then longest match when, after six hours and 33 minutes was defeated in the first round against Fabrice Santoro in the French championship in 2004.

 

Arnaud Clement makes his Kings of Tennis debut on the Champions Tour and although its understood that he is not as fast as when he played pro, his impressive footwork will still make an appearance.  

When he once trained with Andre Agassi, Agassi finally got frustrated that Clement overtook even the most seemingly out-of-reach balls.

"Are you always so quick?" shouted the American over the net and got just as quick of a response from Clement:

"Almost always, but today my legs are very slow.”

It goes well between the points when Clement plays and here there is much to learn

for Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and all the others drag their feet. Clement holds such a high pace that not even the ball boys have time and more than one of them have been told by him to hurry.

In the first match of this year's King of Tennis, we will see if Magnus Larsson can keep up.

 

Jonas Arnesen

 

 

Kings of tennis

8-10 Mars 2017