On The Rise... Jeremy Chardy
by Alison Kim|
Loyal and family orientated Jeremy Chardy is intent on keeping his feet on the ground despite clinching his first ATP World Tour title and rising from No. 73 to No. 32 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings. Surrounded by a strong support team anchored by his coach of 10 years, the Frenchman has shown that success can be homegrown.
When Jeremy Chardy first came to train at his new academy in Pau a decade ago, Frederic Fontang gave the promising youngster a gift: Paolo Coelho's novel, The Alchemist, a tale of a shepherd boy who follows his dreams to foreign lands only to discover the treasure he seeks waiting at home.
The book became a favourite of Chardy's, not only for sentimental reasons, but also for its many important messages.
"It's good to have dreams, in life it's important."
"I gave him this book to read because the life of a tennis player is a lot of travel, you can win money, you can see a lot of good things," says Fontang, a former World No. 59. "But you need to know that the simple things are good also. Your family, your friends, those things are like stone; it's not moving. It gives you confidence. And after that, you can travel, you can go every week to play tournaments. I think it's important to know that those things are indeed the essence of things.
"It's good to have dreams, in life it's important, but sometimes you can have everything close. You don't have to find it so far. In The Alchemist, the story is like that."
Chardy's own story reflects those very ideas. The 22-year-old Frenchman, who prizes loyalty and family above all else, has reached the upper echelon of the sport without leaving his hometown in the south-west of France – circumventing the traditional route of training with the French Tennis Federation or Team Lagardère in Paris.
"It's very important for me," confirms Chardy, who lives in the village of Boeil-Bezing. "When I don't play, I need to go home to see my father, my mother, my grandpapa. We are very close."
Though his recent success has afforded him a couple perks, it has not changed his priorities. After winning his first ATP World Tour title in July, he upgraded the Clio he inherited from his grandfather with the Mercedes E350 he received from the title sponsors, but faithfully kept his first car. And while he moved out of his parents' home this past autumn, he chose a new place just five minutes away to ensure they would still be close by.
Fontang has always been at the centre of Chardy's personal and professional development, bringing together a strong group of individuals dedicated to their same values and goals. Over the past 10 years, the team has grown to include three physiotherapists from Pau – Olivier Sourbès, Jean-Jacques Peyroutou and Étienne Labat – a physical trainer from the south of France, Alain Jacquet, and a mental coach, Jacques Hervet, who once worked with Byron Black.
The team gathers on a monthly basis in Pau to discuss the current situation, how they can improve Chardy's level and pinpoint specific goals they're working on for the next month. Every two to three months, they meet as a collective group with Chardy. On the road, 39-year-old Fontang and the physiotherapists take turns travelling. Fontang starts off a three or four tournament stretch and one of the physios takes over for the final week.
"It's important for me to have a team because it's good for the stability."
The unique arrangement works well for Chardy, who played football throughout his childhood and enjoyed the camaraderie of being on a team. "It's important for me to have a team because it's good for the stability," he admits. "It's good for the confidence too, because I know everybody does the best for me. It's good for my tennis… If I play well, everybody gets more money, so I think it's important to be on the same boat and work together. We have the same goal. I think it's a good thing for everybody."
Right from the start, Fontang knew that Chardy had the attitude and talent to become a professional player. "I saw in the first meeting, in the first practice, that he had enthusiasm, good leg speed and with the hands," he remembers.
Chardy carved out a successful junior career, winning the Wimbledon title and reaching the US Open final to finish as the No. 4-ranked junior in 2005, but he needed to endure a couple of frustrating years on his transition to the ATP World Tour.
The breakthrough came on his country's biggest stage, Roland Garros.
The Parisian crowd had gotten a glimpse of Chardy back in 2006 when he defeated Swedish veteran Jonas Bjorkman on his Grand Slam debut, but they were unprepared for what was to come when he returned two years later.
After opening with a straight-sets win over Portugal's Frederico Gil, the 145th-ranked wild card recipient – playing in just his sixth tour-level event – seemed on the verge of a second-round exit to World No. 7 David Nalbandian. Down two sets, Chardy fell into a 0-40 hole in the first game of the third set.
But with nothing to lose, Chardy found renewed courage. Regaining his composure he erased the deficit, overcame cramps in the fourth set and recovered from an early service break in the fifth set, reeling off six straight games to punctuate his first victory over a Top 10 player. "I don't know what happened. I closed my eyes. Every shot went in the court," Chardy recalls, with a still disbelieving laugh. "It was like a dream."
For members of the Chardy team, the result did not come as a surprise. They had seen Chardy's improvement in the months leading up to the clay-court Grand Slam championship, notably at an ATP Challenger in Marrakech where he finished runner-up to Gael Monfils in two tie-break sets. "We were feeling that something was coming in his game," Fontang explains. "We were expecting this because his level was better and better. It was also good satisfaction. It was logic for me."
With his confidence at an all-time high, France's new star defeated Russian Dmitry Tursunov in straight sets before his run came to an end against Nicolas Almagro of Spain in the fourth round. His performance proved a pivotal moment in Chardy's life, as he surged 51 spots to break into the Top 100 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings. "It was my best moment of my career," says Chardy. "After Roland Garros, my confidence grew. After I beat Nalbandian, I felt I could play good."
During the off-season last year he focused on improving his precision, power and net game. It helped him exceed his team's expectations in 2009. He reached his first tour-level final in February at the inaugural SA Tennis Open in Johannesburg, defeating World No. 13 David Ferrer before falling to countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Five months later, he claimed his first ATP World Tour title at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart.
"It's my dream [to become an actor]. I love the cinema."
Although he did not sustain the same level of success through the final few months of the season, Chardy finished the season with a 35-28 record overall – exceeding his 2008 match-wins total by 25 – and a No. 32 South African Airways 2009 ATP Ranking ensured him a seeding at next year's Australian Open.
Following his final match at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, Chardy reflected on his first full year on the ATP World Tour, which included his debut appearance on the French Davis Cup squad in September. "I think my season was great," he said. "When I started the year, the goal was to be Top 50. I reached that goal in a couple of months. After that, I was a competitor always wanting more, which is normal. So you always try to push your goals further. You want to do better."
With the backing of Fontang, who likens Chardy's game to the all-round and attacking game of Roger Federer, Chardy's development is in safe hands. "For a tennis player like Jeremy, his progression is step by step. For me, that's important because that means it's something solid," says Fontang. He considers Chardy's good nature an integral part of their homegrown success story, but also believes the "always nice, always smiling" Frenchman could benefit by adopting a more aggressive mentality when on the court. "He needs to believe that he has the shots and everything to go to the next step, to the Top 20."
Learning to control his mentality could also come in handy in his next choice of career, becoming an actor. "It's my dream. I love the cinema," says Chardy, who is drawn to the idea of portraying a wide range of personalities and emotions on the screen – a stark departure from his collected temperament on the tennis court.
But if his taste in movies is any indication, it's highly likely that the roles he undertakes in the future won't stray far from his true character and values. He says of his favourite movie, Meet Joe Black: "It's just beautiful. I love the story, I love the actors inside. When you see this movie, you think about all your family."
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