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Capturing the French Tennis Scene: Insights from PTR Coach and Former WTA Player Vladimíra Uhlířová Renaud

With the attention of the tennis world focused on France during the 2024 French Open, people want to know what the vibe is for tennis there?

We checked with Vladimíra Uhlířová Renaud, one of the leading Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) tennis coaches in France to get her read on the status of tennis in France.

A former standout at the University of Texas, Vladimíra Uhlířová Renaud was a 10-year veteran on the WTA Tour, earning a top 20 doubles ranking, competing in 32 Grand Slam tournaments and making the semifinals of the U.S. Open, the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and making 18 WTA doubles finals, winning five titles. A PTR-certified coach since 2014, she received her Masters degree in Sports Leadership from Northeastern University and has worked in several roles in tennis after her playing career, including a TV commentator, co-coach/analyst for French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova and the organizer of ATP and WTA tournaments.

What the status of recreational tennis these days in France and what can other nations do to make tennis programming better in their countries or areas by copying something that the French do well?

I have lived in France only since 2018, so I cannot really speak into depth about the status and evolution in recreational tennis in France but on the top of what I think, I also asked around in my area. It is clear that there is a big difference between big clubs in big cities and small clubs around France. In general, unfortunately the trend is that it is mostly older people are still playing but many clubs are really lacking children and youngsters. I feel (as a mom of a school kid) when I compared to what I experienced and how I grew up in the Czech Republic, that in France, the school hours are killing the sports opportunities for children. School for kindergarten and first five years of elementary school are 8.30 – 16.30 (with a long lunch break) except on Wednesday. So, what happens is that children are so tired when they finish school almost close to 5 pm, that the day is gone, they can’t go do anything of quality. Therefore, there is only Wednesday for the small ones and Saturday to do sports. The way I grew up in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) was that we had school every day and as a small kid or even at high school, I never finished school later than 2 pm! That meant that I spent every afternoon doing activities – tennis, athletics, piano, other sports, et. Every afternoon I played and I ran and I simply improved every day! That allowed me to be a good student and at the same time become good in tennis.

Second thing is that many clubs are stuck with the system that there is only one coach who monopolizes all the coaching and therefore there is often lack of dynamics in terms of coaching / learning / improving, finding the right coach, player development. Also, many young people try tennis and after one year they go try something different. By my standard, and compared to the Czech Republic, I find that in many clubs children are not taught the correct technique, too many children on the court without proper learning and then of course as they are not really improving, they quit tennis and go do something else, or unfortunately spend hours and hours on the phone or computer. Tennis is unfortunately still an expensive sport if we want to really invest in a good individualized coaching.

How much is the interest in tennis elevated while Roland Garros is played? Does this cause for an increase in participation in tennis, where it might lag in other times in the year?

Roland Garros draws an enormous attention in France every year. It is of course among the tennis passionate but also among general public. People talk about it at work, of course in the clubs, on TV, radio, everywhere. The great thing is that the French Open is aired every year on a public national TV channel, except for the 8:15pm match every night on Chatrier which is only on Amazon Prime. But the rest of the day, anyone in France can watch RG without paying for any special channel. It is also nice that the French TV uses the former players, namely Justine Henin is the key commentator for them, and they involve also the former French top players, so it is a good mix of professional TV anchors with tennis players in a very casual way, they are pleasant to listen to, they don’t try to make it a mega show, no shocking make-up, rather a casual, very pleasant coverage. (I commentated on live TV myself for three years in English for the World Feed, Tennis TV, British Eurosport and Eurosport International so it is also my passion to watch and commentate tennis.)

What kind of advice would you give high-level competitive players and also recreational players about playing on clay?

Playing on clay is a fantastic way to develop the game and to prevent overuse of the body. Clay requires and rewards a player to have and use a broad variety of shots, to be patient yet ready to use the right shot, to work the point, to be a good strategist, to be a good problem solver (because of some bad bounces and how clay plays differently depending on the weather conditions). Pure power is not enough on clay. Clay also requires you to move smoothly, to be in balance, as if you want to slide or change direction on clay but if you are not balanced, you will crash and burn on this surface. 

For children and young players, it is also a fantastic way to protect the body, as playing on hard – only – is so brutal on the body, especially during the developmental years when the body is growing. The constant pounding on hard courts is terrible for the joints. During my career, I saw many players who grew up on hard and they suffered from stress fractures at young age. That is shocking to me. For older players, clay is also very good option. It is absorbing the impact, so the joints don’t suffer as much, therefore prolonging the longevity of players, keeping people in the game.

It is a great balance in many Central European countries where we play during the spring/summer and fall on clay and then we spend winter on fast indoor surfaces. That way, we have to learn to work several types of game, work different strategies, we learn to be aggressive, creative, patient and to be fighters. No wonder the Czech Republic has produced so many great players throughout the years, again and again.

Of course when we say red clay, there are so many different types, RG is a fast, hard clay court with a very fine clay material. On contrary, for example in the Northern Germany or in Poland, the courts are much rougher type of clay, and not as compact. Speaking from my experience, clay is not just one single type of surface… and of course the North American green clay courts are great – good bounces, it plays fast, you can still slide. I really enjoyed playing and winning WTA Amelia Island, and playing many times WTA Charleston.

What is the best part about being a member of the PTR coaching community?

Being member of the PTR coaching community is yet another confirmation and a joy for me to see how tennis connects people, how tennis makes the world small, how tennis gives people opportunities. I experienced this during my college tennis years (where I was No. 1 and MVP for the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns women’s tennis team). Then I saw the same during my 10 years on the WTA Tour, later as an organizer of professional events and of course as a co-coach, analyst and mentor of Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open champion, I have been working with her since 2015 when a friend of mine Jana Novotna, her late coach,  asked me to join her in developing Barbora from a junior player to a top female player. 

As for PTR, I got to become a member in 2014 after completing the WTA/ATP Pro Course in London where I got to meet and be lectured by Dan Santorum and Inaki Bazola (they were both awesome). We were also taught by Mike Barrell, another excellent experience to get to meet him and listen to his way of teaching children. Fantastic.

What else would you like to add about the status of tennis in France today?

Tennis is and will always stay a very popular sport in France, just like elsewhere in Europe. There are many tennis clubs around the country. From the Federation and professional players point of view from what I have observed throughout the years, I believe they will continue developing many top players as the Federation supports a big group of young players and really gives them opportunities to grow and improve thanks to money put into their traveling and training. They give wild cards for Roland Garros and other events, there is a great team of coaches in Paris at the Roland Garros training centre, good cooperation among them and the team spirit among the French players. On the women’s side, France luckily had Amelie Mauresmo and Marion Bartoli to win the Grand Slam tournament in the last decades. On the men’s side of course there has been a huge drought since Yannick Noah won Roland Garros in 1983 as the last Frenchman to take the title at any Grand Slam. I always felt that there have been so many really excellent French players (Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils,..) but they often missed that extra tiger killer instinct which is probably necessary to get to the very top. But of course in the last 20 years it has not been easy to play on the same stage with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, or Stan Wawrinka..


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