Cédric Pioline

Born: June 15, 1969 in Neuilly-sur-Seine (Île-de-France)
Height: 1.89 m
Plays: Right-handed
Arguably the best Frenchmen in the 90s, but not the crowd favorite; I recall his Toulouse ’93 final when he faced Arnaud Boetsch, just two months older. Surprisingly, almost the entire stadium cheered for Boetsch, despite neither of the Frenchmen hailing from the south of France; both were born in cities near Paris. Unlike other prominent French players born in the 60s, such as Yannick Noah, Guy Forget, Henri Leconte, he hadn’t secured interesting victories during his teenage years, making it difficult to anticipate notable achievements on the ATP Tour, therefore Fédération Française de Tennis didn’t support him in the late 80s.
In my view, the turning point in Pioline’s career emerged at the US Open ’92. At 23 years old, he engaged in a gruelling four-set match against the era’s top player, Jim Courier. Pioline gained confidence from that defeat, subsequently reaching his first final in Lyon, followed by a remarkable advancement to the Monte Carlo and US Open finals (he avenged his loss to Courier on the same court). With a burden of misfortune in the finals, he needed to participate in as many as 148 main-level events before finally claiming his maiden title in Copenhagen on his tenth final attempt. Among the nine successive lost finals, he was considered a clear favorite only once, and was stunned by the powerful serving of Jonathan Stark in Bolzano.
Ultimately, Pioline concluded his career with five titles, the most prestigious being Monte Carlo ’00. Although he didn’t defeat any top-ranked players then, all six defeated opponents had already established recognizable positions in the tennis world. Regarding his playing style, it’s worth noting that perhaps the most challenging shot in tennis (excluding trick shots), the backhand overhead, could be considered his trademark. The son of volleyball players, with his mother hailing from Romania, had an innate ability to leap using both legs, and while his classical overhead might not have been as spectacular as Pete Sampras‘, it was an efficient shot. Pioline’s one-handed topspin backhand stood as a rock-solid stroke, serving as the precursor to a shot highly valued in Stan Wawrinka‘s game more than a decade later.
Pioline demonstrated adeptness in both serve-and-volley, evident in his journey to the biggest grass-court final, and an offensive baseline style, displayed notably in reaching the French Open ’98 semifinal. Pioline excelled as a tie-break specialist in 1999, ending the season with a 30-12 record (71%); he illustrated his versatile skills and mental resilience by defeating two much younger players in the ‘best of five’ format with the help of tight tie-breaks, both of whom would rise to become the best in the world soon: Gustavo Kuerten at the US Open and Lleyton Hewitt in the Davis Cup final.
Interestingly, similar to Miloslav Mečíř, Pioline swiftly lost both major finals to the dominant player of the decade. Mečíř fell to Ivan Lendl (the best player of the 80s) at the US Open ’86 and the Aussie Open ’89, while Pioline faced Sampras (the best player of the 90s) at the US Open ’93 and Wimbledon ’97 (in both finals, Pioline was overwhelmed by Sampras’ serves). Combined, the Lendl-Mečíř finals lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes, whereas the Sampras-Pioline finals totalled 3 hours and 38 minutes. The Frenchman was the only notable player in the 90s who used an aluminium racquet. However, in 1996, he made a switch from the Prince “Magnesium Pro 90” (specially painted white for him, visible in the photo) to the Head “Radical Tour”. In the last few years of his career, he relied on the Dunlop “Muscle Weave 200G”. Personally, I regard him as the most adept player of the 90s among those who never graced the season-ending championships – he came remarkably close in 1993, being just two points away in the Antwerp semifinal as he faced his toughest opponent, Sampras (0-9 in their meetings, the same against Boris Becker; Pioline was close to beating both on two separate occasions, including a memorable Wimbledon ’95 quarterfinal).
Career record: 389–318 [ 306 events ]
Career titles: 5
Highest ranking: No. 5
Best GS results:
Roland Garros (semifinal 1998; quarterfinal 1996)
Wimbledon (runner-up 1997; quarterfinal 1993, 95 & 99)
US Open (runner-up 1993; semifinal 1999)
Davis Cup champion 1996 and 2001 (only played doubles in the final)
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1 Response to Cédric Pioline

  1. Voo de Mar says:
    Activity: 1989 – 2002

    Five-setters: 15–18 (45%)
    Tie-breaks: 161–138 (54%)
    Deciding 3rd set TB: 17-16 (52%)

    Defeats by retirement: 5
    Walkovers given: 0

    Longest victory: Wimbledon ’99 (4R)… Karol Kucera 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3… 3 hours 57 minutes
    Longest defeat: Davis Cup ’96 (F)… Thomas Enqvist 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 4-6, 7-9… 4 hours 26 minutes

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