Henri Leconte

Born: July 4, 1963 in Lillers (Hauts-de-France)
Height: 1.84 m
Plays: Left-handed
In retrospect, when considering five distinct generations of French players during the Open Era, it seems that the cohort playing in the 1980s boasted the best talents. Yannick Noah (born in 1960), along with two younger left-handed players, Henri Leconte (b. 1963) and Guy Forget (b. 1965), stood out. Noah remains the sole French player to have clinched a major title, while Leconte played in a major final. However, Forget’s performances at majors overall were disappointing, even though he managed to secure two ‘Mercedes Super 9’ titles in 1991 and contributed significantly to France’s Davis Cup victory that same year, alongside Leconte.
Leconte’s impact on the tennis scene emerged in November ’82 when he claimed his first title in Stockholm, defeating the then French Open champion, Mats Wilander, in the final (notably, Leconte saved three match points in the third round against Tomáš Šmíd). His triumph in Stockholm also earned him a spot in the Davis Cup final, yet he lost a crucial rubber to Gene Mayer. The following year Leconte defeated the best player of the 70s Björn Borg (Monte Carlo), twice the best player of the 80s Ivan Lendl (the Czechoslovak hadn’t that status yet, but his potential dominance in the decade was rather conspicuous then, Leconte even had a 5:3 lead in H2H against Lendl at some point in 1985), thus expectations that Leconte would be a leading player in the 80s were obvious. The years 1986-88 marked the zenith of Leconte’s career, with seven out of his sixteen finals occurring during this period. His performance in major tournaments culminated in the French Open ’88 final. Having won three five-setters prior to the final, Leconte succumbed to fatigue after losing the opening set to the formidable Wilander.
However, on May 12, 1989, Leconte underwent the first of three operations for a herniated disk, marking a turning point in his career. The year 1991, at the age of 28, heralded a downturn that eventually led to his retirement five years later. Nevertheless, the end of that year held a sweet moment. Noah, now Davis Cup captain in the twilight of his career, enlisted Leconte to play the second rubber in a tie against the United States. Despite being ranked at No. 159 and having not won a match for five months, Leconte stunned Pete Sampras. The following day, he assisted Forget in defeating one of the top doubles pairs at that time, Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, in a manner that exceeded expectations.
Struggling with his herniated disk, Leconte continued to surprise. First, at the French Open ’92, he advanced to the semifinals as a ‘wild card’ [200]. Then, in Halle ’93, he secured his final title as a player ranked at No. 141, overcoming two Top 10 players in the last two matches. Prior to the event, Leconte held a dismal 2-8 record for the year. He concluded his career at his beloved French Open, in the year 1996. Sixteen years after making his first main-level appearance at the tournament, he fell to a Swedish player again (Hans Simonsson in 1980 and Thomas Johansson in 1996).
Leconte departed the Centre Court in tears with flowers, marking the end of an era. Suddenly, he reappeared as a ‘wild card’ two weeks later in Rosmalen, only to lose to Kenneth Carlsen. This match ultimately stood as his final appearance at the main-level of his professional career (though he did play two more Challengers that year). Leconte’s service motion was short, similar to Roscoe Tanner‘s serve. He was an all-round player, adept at implementing a serve-and-volley style across all surfaces (only a few players in the 80s could be as effective attacking the net behind the second serve). His exceptionally quick hands, especially on his backhand, were at times sensational, producing astonishingly fast strokes with a short swing. An emotional player, Leconte thrived on interacting with the crowd, drawing inspiration from the loud atmosphere. Chanting “Henri! Henri!” was something he relished while playing in France; it seemed to elevate his game to another level.
One notable example of this came during the fourth round of the French Open ’90 facing Andrey Chesnokov, who was then displaying some of the best tennis of his career after winning Monte Carlo and finishing as the runner-up in Rome. Chesnokov had won 16 of his last 17 matches and was considered a favorite for the title. However, Leconte almost outplayed him in straight sets in under two hours on Centre Court. Despite Chesnokov seizing control in sets three and four, Leconte responded with an ‘all or nothing’ attitude in the decider. He relentlessly attacked the net as both a server and receiver, winning the deciding set 6-3. Out of the 29 points he earned, an impressive 16 came from his winners! Leconte took part in the first final I have seen in my life – Antwerp ’90 – the only event in which he faced Brad Gilbert despite spending the entire 80s on the tour together. The gifted Frenchman defeated all the best players of the 80s, except fellow left-handers, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, and only once Leconte was awfully close to leave the court as a winner in 16 meetings against them (Australian Open ’85).
Career record: 377–269 [ 250 events ]
Career titles: 9
Highest ranking: No. 5
Best GS results:
Roland Garros (runner-up 1988; semifinal ’86 & 92; quarterfinal ’85 & 90)
Wimbledon (semifinal 1986; quarterfinal 1985 & 87)
US Open (quarterfinal 1986)
Davis Cup champion 1991
World Team Cup champion 1986
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