Yannick Noah knows the exhilaration winning a Grand Slam title can bring, but his second career after tennis has offered him a new perspective on being the centre of attention.By Dan Imhoff | Friday, 24 January, 2014
Feeding off the energy of a big crowd brings with it an exhilaration only the star at the centre of all the attention can truly describe.
For a musician, it is uplifting from the word go. On a sporting stage, this support brings with it a pressure magnified by playing at home.
Some lap it up; others crumble under the palpable expectations. Few, though, can compare the two experiences.
For Yannick Noah, it is a rare privilege.
The last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam title, at Roland Garros in 1983, the former world No.3 won 23 career titles and went on to captain France to victories in the 1991 and 1996 Davis Cups and 1997 Fed Cup.
Since stepping away from the game, Noah has gone on to a successful singing career, releasing 11 albums, four of which have topped the charts in France.
He has performed at Bob Geldof’s Live 8 concert in 2005 – a fundraiser aimed at alleviating poverty in Africa – and three years ago, nearly 80,000 spectators packed out Stade de France in Paris to see him perform.
Returning to Melbourne Park to play in the Legends’ doubles, Noah – an Australian Open semifinalist in 1990 – gave a passionate insight into his contrasting career paths.
“You know playing in a final, the final that I played, the only final that I played (French Open 1983), was a lot of stress, lot of great energies around. The excitement came after the last point, that last maybe 30 seconds,” Noah, dressed in his red retro Le Coq Sportif jacket and New York Yankees baseball cap, said.
“Playing a concert in front of maybe 80,000 people is joy from maybe the first time until the last word, you know, just enjoy it. It’s not as strong, it’s not as powerful. I think there’s such a thing as that moment you win a match, there’s not such an emotion that exists.”
That heightened joy of winning a Grand Slam, he explained, was compounded by the need to keep your emotions in check in an individual sport.
The release often came after that final point.
“Sometimes as a player you can’t be frustrated, because you have to show how strong you are. We all know that we’re not that strong all the time and it’s very hard to show weakness,” Noah said. “It’s almost very hard to be human. It’s a weakness to show it. Well, you know, an artist has the obligation to show emotion, to show weakness.”
While failing to reach another Grand Slam final in the subsequent seven years he spent on tour, Noah can attest to the burden success at home can bring.
The French, after all, are still waiting for a major champion 30 years after Noah’s Paris triumph.
He admits singing has filled a void that being a professional tennis player had left in his life.
“It’s different ways, you know, and I like that because I missed it. I missed it as a player,” he said. “I’m so into my singing … I feel every moment of it because I was denied it for so long.”
He rejected the suggestion there was too much emphasis on winning in professional tennis, saying some players just handle the pressure better than others.
“I don’t think too much. It’s a lot, but I learned from it,” Noah said. “I don’t regret any minute of when I was a tennis player, but I’m very privileged that I can do this second life now because I learned a lot from the court, from this career.”
He likened the intensity of competing on tour to sitting a school exam, every day, only under the scrutiny of the public eye.
Filtering this stress into competing for who it really mattered to was a constant struggle.
“I learned that, you know, people can change. We were judged every day … A game was an exam,” he said. “I always had this tension. It took me a long, long time to try to realise I was doing it for myself and the people I really love and now this is what I do when I sing, I sing it for the people, for the people that loves me.”
Feeling the love, it appears, comes a little easier as a musician.
“The big difference is that when you get on the court, you have half the guys who are with the opposite player and some are with you. When they come to your concert they all love you, so it’s easier.”
More pressure on court? Maybe. Winning a Grand Slam before your home crowd, though; that remains a rare privilege.