France hopes for its next hero, but wrong time for Monfils

More than a quarter of a century has passed and the French are getting impatient. With every passing year the hunger for a hometown male hero to win the French Open grows ever stronger. The memories of Yannick Noah's superb triumph in 1983 should have faded by now but remain vivid in Parisian consciousness simply because of France's paucity of men's success ever since.

With a strong powerbase of talent, it was hoped the current crop of challengers could put up a serious fight this year. No other nation has three men near the top of the rankings, or indeed nine in the top 50, yet Wednesday looks likely to signal the end of the local challenge.

Gilles Simon's challenge petered out in the third round in a manner unbefitting the world No. 7, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could not be helped by a partisan home crowd as he bowed out to Juan Martin Del Potro in the last 16. Indeed, the most excitement so far came from unknown Josselin Ouanna, who ousted Marat Safin in a four-and-a-half-hour epic early in Week 1.

All have fallen by the wayside except for world No.10 Gael Monfils, who will battle Roger Federer in a quarterfinal on Wednesday. Monfils lost to Federer in a plucky effort in last year's semifinal, when he became the first French man to reach the last four in seven years. Yet while Monfils is blessed with prodigious talent, he may be running into Federer at the wrong time.

Having survived a five-set encounter with Tommy Haas, the Swiss is keenly eyeing up a 14th Grand Slam title with Rafael Nadal out of the equation.

Monfils is certain to showcase plenty of thrills and spills - he always does. His incredible diving lob to win a point against Jurgen Melzer earlier in the tournament has been repeated countless times on the highlight reels.

Yet it will take something truly spectacular to unseat Federer and a level of consistency that Monfils unlikely will be able to conjure.

If he does, it would spark a mass outpouring of joy from a tennis-mad nation.

If he doesn't, the dream is dead for another 12 months.

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