Mahut's Rich Reward
Amiable Frenchman continues to break new ground in his 30s
After weeks of no comment, in the end the prospect of becoming the 49th doubles No. 1 was taken out of Mahut's hands. On Saturday, as Marc Lopez and Feliciano Lopez beat Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan for the Roland Garros title, Mahut was 288 miles away preparing for his singles title defence at the Ricoh Open in 's-Hertogenbosch.
"I watched the match on television, at the end of the second set I thought the Bryans would win," Mahut told ATPWorldTour.com. "But the broadcast ended and I then followed the score on the internet and via relatives."
Guy Forget (No. 3), Michael Llodra (No. 3), Julien Benneteau (No. 5), Henri Leconte (No. 6) and Fabrice Santoro (No. 6) were all never able to follow in the footsteps of Yannick Noah, the last French player at No. 1 in August 1987. Today, officially, it's Mahut's fate.
"There was a mixture of pride and fulfillment on learning that the Spaniards had won," said Mahut, who has been in sensational form this year with partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert. "Although it's not the same as singles, you're the first in your discipline. I realise how hard it is to become No. 1. [Mika] Llodra, Santoro and other great French champions did not make it. It's a special feeling."
After dinner with Paul-Henri Mathieu on Saturday night, Mahut was able to call his wife, Virginie, and former players and coaches, who had been part of the journey. "Now that it's done, it will free us," said Mahut. "Unconsciously, it added more pressure. Pierre-Hugues and I can start over and look to tournament goals again."
Over the past 18 months, Mahut and Herbert have reached eight finals, captured the 2015 US Open (d. Murray-Peers) and recently won three straight ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies at the BNP Paribas Open (d. Pospisil-Sock), the Miami Open presented by Itau (d. Klaasen-Ram) and the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (d. Murray-Soares).
It could have been so different. Mahut's career falls into two chapters: pre- and post- 'The Longest Match'.
It's now almost six years since Mahut was the valiant loser against John Isner in an 11-hour, five-minute three-day record-breaking match at 2010 Wimbledon. It brought instant recognition for both players, a high point for Mahut, 10 years on from an excellent junior career.
But what next?
"Nicolas had a career before his match against Isner at Wimbledon and a second career after that match," good friend Fabrice Santoro told ATPWorldTour.com. "Even though he lost that one, people started to talk about this completely crazy match. And that loss gave him confidence."
For a long time, ice packs compressed onto Mahut's knees or elbows were a regular sight at tournaments. The problems hindered his progress, but the smart and amiable Frenchman never gave up. With the birth of his son, Natanel, in August 2011, also came the death of a nephew. Yet he continued to graft.
Since turning 30, the classic serve-volleyer has picked up three ATP World Tour grass-court singles titles and 11 doubles crowns. Questions about 2010 Wimbledon have subsided.
"I always thought I would [aim for No. 1 in doubles] after stopping my singles career, but we played so well and it just happened. We had an unbelievable run in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo. I'm really proud of what I just accomplished. After 30, life becomes easier maybe. Tennis is still a serious thing, but now I have a son, a family, so maybe I see tennis, my job, differently."
Today, at 34 years of age, Mahut adds another line to the history books: a Frenchman at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings. Congratulations, Nico.