It was an end of a tremendous era for French tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club this weekend when Davis Cup captain Guy Forget led the team for a final time.
Forget came to the captaincy in 1999, following in some big footsteps. Former Roland Garros champion Yannick Noah had charge of the Davis Cup efforts previously and successfully scored the title twice in 1991 and 1996.
Not to worry. Forget was ready for the challenge. He’d played Davis Cup and knew what it was all about. He represented France for 12 years starting in 1984, appeared in 26 ties and amassed a 38-11 overall win-loss record, split to 17-7 in singles and 21-4 in doubles.
And Forget played on both of Noah’s winning squads so he was a fully-minted Davis Cup champion.
Forget’s Davis Cup playing career lasted 12 years, but his captaincy surpassed that as this was his 13th season at the helm of the French team. And be assured that Forget, one of the truly capable and kind souls in the game, built a success story as captain, too.
This weekend was the best proof of Forget’s talent as a captain. Beyond the team he assembled to play – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra – a number of the other former French players showed up to honour Forget as well, including Thierry Tulasne, Arnaud Clement, Nicolas Escude, Arnaud di Pasquale, Francois Jauffret, Piere Darmon, Jerome Golmard, Eric Winogradsky, Thierry Ascione and Stephane Simiane. Even Amelie Mauresmo and Virginie Razzano were on hand.
After the tie was decided for the United States, there was an on-court ceremony for Forget. Many of the French players stood together on the court, arms draped around each other, and some tears flowed as Forget spoke to the fans.
“I thought it was beautiful,” said American captain Jim Courier, who is close to fluent in French, of Forget’s speech. “Those are moments you always remember. Gives you chills. It's special.”
Forget started his captaincy well, leading France to the Davis Cup Final his first year on the job, but lost at home to Australia 3-2 in Nice. But he went on to gain revenge against the Aussies two years later, taking a team Down Under for the Final in 2001. Forget and his band of French brothers – Nicolas Escude, Sebastien Grosjean, Cedric Pioline and Fabrice Santoro – posted a 3-2 win on grass at Melbourne Park.
In total, Forget was 25-13 in ties played as the captain, which encompassed the one title and three runner-up finishes.
“All these years were wonderful,” Forget said. “There’s the atmosphere that’s just wonderful and when the guys happen to play well, and you eventually win some matches and lift the cup – and we’ve done it once – it’s just the best feeling.”
But as every Davis Cup captain will tell you the position is not always an easy one to hold. Being the boss comes with positives and negatives.
“First of all, there’s been some really hard moments and some tough losses,” Forget said. “Some moments you’re dealing with players that have egos and you want to make sure that everyone gets the right message and that everyone goes together in the same direction.
“So, once again, to appreciate those (great) moments you have to go through stages where it’s difficult, you’re very disappointed, you’re sad and everyone is sad, and sometimes people question your choices that you’ve made, but you have to accept that.”
One player who was thrilled to have Forget guide his Davis Cup career is Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, who has only played the international competition for Forget.
“It was his last match,” Tsonga said. “I mean, I’ve only had him in the chair with me for Davis Cup so he will be my captain forever. You know, I like him because he likes the game. He likes what he’s doing. He likes Davis Cup and he gives me this fever. The Davis Cup fever.”
So, now that Forget’s been on both sides of the Davis Cup – player and captain – how does he look at both roles?
“Being a player is hard because there’s the pressure of performing well enough on the court,” Forget said. “Being the captain you’re in charge of the whole thing; the choices, the atmosphere and doing the media so it’s a constant worrying job.
“When you’re a player you just have to focus on those two hours when you train and then your match and everyone on the team makes sure you eat the right food, have a nice room, have a nice massage – they treat you like some kind of God. When you’re captain you have to be aware of every detail. But it’s so exciting to be in that Davis Cup adventure.”
Forget might be leaving the Davis Cup captaincy, but he’s definitely not leaving the sport. He’s moving on to a new adventure as the Tournament Director of the BNP Paribas Masters, which is played in Paris at the end of the season.
“He's been a tremendous asset to tennis in general,” said Courier, of Forget. “As a player, he was a beautiful player, great champion, great Davis Cup captain, teammate. Of course, he's been a phenomenal captain. You can show the fellowship and the love that the team has for him, and vice versa.
“I'm sure it's bittersweet for him to close his career as the captain,” Courier added. “But I do know Guy is a very valuable commodity in tennis, and he will maintain a presence. I'm confident he'll be a very visible person in French tennis going forward, and very valuable going forward.”