Tennis: Leconte as a commentator? Allez! Allez!

Not being your bona-fide modern tennis fan, it takes something out of the ordinary for me to sit and watch the Australian Open for extended periods. Mine is the world of grass courts, Lecoste shirts, Dunlop Volleys and ‘serve and volley’ games. Aside from the latest Damir Dokic rant, I rarely take notice.

But Channel 7’s unveiling of Henri Leconte, the commentator, during several matches involving Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga this week, has piqued my interest. Not since Gabriel Gaté sautéed his way into our lounge rooms in the ’90s have we been graced by such an enigmatic Frenchman.

Watching Tsonga – who has to be the most physically imposing French tennis player since Amelie Mauresmo – dispatch Serbian Novak Djokovic last night, I was struck by the unusually one-sided commentary from a voice I didn’t recognise.

The Channel 7 production cut to the commentary box to reveal an iconic figure of ’80s tennis – Henri Leconte. My enduring image of Leconte, the tennis player, was of a stylish player in both the game (single-handed backhand) and fashion (Lecoste shirt) who played with skill, and put a high price on entertainment.

The same eccentric style that took him to the No.5 singles ranking in the world still serves him well. Like a James Joyce novel, Leconte seems to drift into a stream of consciousness when calling the game, often during the points. At one stage the Frenchman was endorsing the importance of checking the oil in cars, as an analogy for players taking injury timeouts during matches, leaving the usually collected Jim Courier in hysterics.

At times Leconte would squeal with delight, get over-excited on a big point, or groan in frustration as Tsonga lost control of the match. Courier best summed up the Frenchman’s style of commentary with his attempt to translate the word ‘biased’ into French. But the attempt was lost in translation.

I’ve always been turned off by jingoism in sport, particularly with tennis and the advent of the Fanatics. Channel 7, and in particular John Newcombe, have often encouraged this form of support during games involving Australian players, particularly during the rise of Lleyton Hewitt in the past decade. I’ve never found Hewitt in any way endearing, nor his travelling entourage which was commonly referred to as the‘Griswalds on the tennis circut.

But now I find myself drawn to a similar form of jingoism through Leconte’s commentary of Tsonga’s matches. Perhaps it’s his quirky, likeable nature, but instead of turning off I’m tuning in.

At one point during the Tsonga-Djokovic match, I considered how the Serbian community in Australia would have enjoyed the broadcast, but remembering we are pooled with them in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I didn’t spare it another thought.

Why can I accept this kind of bias from a Frenchman, but not an Australian? I’m not sure. Would Channel 7 use Leconte if Tsonga was playing against Hewitt? Definitely not. Am I making too much of this? Probably.

Memo to Channel 7: more Leconte s’il vous plait.

Comments

  1. Good article Martin, I enjoy his commentary too, had me in stitches the first time I heard him yell “UNBELIEVABLE!” after an epic point.
    He’s almost like a French Rex Hunt!

  2. John Butler says:

    Good stuff Martin

    Though I fear Adam may be on to something with the Rex comparison.

    A little bit of Henri may go a long way (over time).

    PS: I reckon Amelie could still take Jo if she had to.

  3. Great yarn – I’m with you in that I abhor Australian jingoism, but am oddly drawn to Laconte’s.

    Having Hewitt and the Fanatics (F***witics) as the face of the former no doubt goes part way to explaining it.

  4. Martin Reeves says:

    Litz – the Fanatics are a separate study altogether, but where to begin?

    Your description in brackets is probably a good starting point though.

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    UNBELIEVABLE!

  6. Leconte is to tennis commentaries what O’Keefe is to cricket commentaries.

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