21-year-old reflects on influence of French greats

France has rarely lacked entertainers when it comes to tennis. The country’s current crop of #NextGenATP talent is no different.

When Arthur Cazaux steps on court, he is not just thinking about continuing his rise up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. The 21-year-old is also driven by a need to follow in the footsteps of the sport’s great entertainers.

“I think it's good to keep our identity and put some show in the game,” Cazaux told ATPTour.com earlier this year. “It's important for tennis and also for the crowd, because people come to watch us for a show. So it's good to have these kinds of players, like Yannick Noah and now with Gael Monfils, with Nick Kyrgios. That's good.”

The World No. 124 Cazaux will have to the chance to demonstrate his own on-court charisma at home this week at the Moselle Open in Metz, where he competes as a wild card at the ATP 250. Currently 11th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah, it could be a decisive moment in his bid to make a late charge towards the season-ending Next Gen ATP Finals.

Arthur Cazaux
Arthur Cazaux in ATP Challenger Tour action in Bordeaux earlier this year. Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/ATP Tour.

With Arthur Fils and Luca Van Assche both in a strong position to make the eight-player field in Saudi Arabia, Cazaux could be the third Frenchman to qualify this year for the 21-and-under event. Like Fils and Van Assche, he is quick to pay tribute to the influence of the French stars of his childhood, some of whom are still playing and are now his colleagues on the ATP Tour.

“We always have many good players, many players in the Top 100, so I think [there are good role models] in France,” said Cazaux. “It was a good influence on me when I was younger. The ‘Musketeer’ generation, with [Richard] Gasquet, [Gael] Monfils, [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga, [Gilles] Simon, also [Adrian] Mannarino, all these players. It was so nice to watch French players at the top.

“So it was good [then] in France and it's still good in France. Now I can train with these kinds of players, I can talk with these kinds of players. It's helped me a lot.”

Cazaux’s biggest childhood idol actually hailed from one of France’s western European neighbours. Yet while Rafael Nadal was undoubtedly No. 1 in the young Cazaux’s eyes, one of the earliest matches that sticks in his memory featured the Spaniard playing second fiddle to a French great.

“[I remember] Tsonga destroyed Rafa [6-2, 6-3, 6-2] in the semi-final of the Australian Open [in 2008],” said Cazaux. “It was unbelievable. Jo took the match to his advantage, and he hit the ball so hard during this match, it was crazy… It was kind of crazy to put this kind of score up against Rafa during a semi-final.

“I was so young. Of course, I supported the French player, but Rafa was my idol… Jo was [also] a true inspiration for me. He was a role model. He played so good during all his career, he beat all the best players. I had the chance also to speak many times with him and he is an unbelievable person.”

Advice from former Top 10 stars such as Tsonga seems to be paying off for Cazaux, who has won two ATP Challenger Tour titles, one of which came during a 13-match winning streak (including qualifying) at the start of 2023. He hit his career-high of No. 119 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in August.

“When I was speaking with him, often we spoke about the mentality,” reflected Cazaux on his time spent with Tsonga. “Also with injuries. Even though I'm young, I had many big injuries and I know Jo also had some big injuries during his career. We spoke a lot about this, about how to come back better on court. It was really cool.”

While Tsonga possessed plenty of joie de vivre on court, Monfils is the player whose game style Cazaux is most drawn to.

“Gael Monfils was one of my favourite players and is still one of my favourite players,” said Cazaux. “Now, I’ve met him, and I see him on the on the Tour, so it's different, but he inspires me a lot, with his ‘showman’ style. We are also [both] big fans of the NBA, and we have this influence also. We spoke a lot about this.”

With so many potential inspirations, Cazaux could be forgiven for simply trying to replicate one of his childhood heroes with his on-court demeanour. Yet just as Tsonga, Monfils et al. did before him, Cazaux is focused on bringing his own unique brand of tennis to courts around the world.

“I’m authentic. I keep my personality,” he said. “I think I have my own personality and I'm very different from all the other players. I'm a cool guy and I think when you watch me on court, you think that too.”