Forty Years After French Open Win, Yannick Noah Endures as a Star

“When I was losing tennis matches, I was telling people I was a singer,” he said.

He moved back and forth between Europe and the United States, appearing in the stands of basketball games while watching his son, Joakim, became a college and N.B.A. star. Noah may not be around Roland Garros much this year, but Joakim was often in the player box of Frances Tiafoe, an American who is the son of African immigrants and is one of the tour’s few highly ranked Black players.

Noah spends much of his time in Cameroon now. The photo that accompanies his mobile number shows him standing in front of a turquoise sea, sipping through a straw from a full martini glass, peering out from under the brim of a baseball cap.

The dark dreadlocks are gone, replaced by tidy and appropriately thinning salt-and-pepper hair. There are lines across his forehead and bags under his eyes. But the gap-tooth smile, the soft voice, his “there-is-more-to-life-than-tennis” ethos, and that combination of swagger and approachability, it’s all still there. In the middle of the concert, he took a lap through the stadium, singing into the microphone in one hand, high-fiving and embracing the crowd with the other.

The growing distance between the public and tennis players troubles him, he said, especially when social media is supposed to get them closer to fans. He has little use for the game’s code of conduct, which he said stifles players, preventing them from showing emotion on the court.

Those emotional outbursts from McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, and even Noah on occasion, once helped draw the common sports fan to an elite game. Also, emotions are at the core of the sport, he said. Ask the players he coached to the Davis Cup title what he talked about with them, he said. He rarely mentioned tennis, just emotions.

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