Yannick Noah, the second black man to win a tennis grand slam

Stephen Nartey March 22, 2023
Zannick Noah/Photo credit: International Tennis Hall of Fame

The professional life of Yannick Noah changed the day he was spotted by Arthur Ashe at a tennis clinic in Yaounde, Cameroon, when he was playing tennis with a board instead of a racquet. Even though Arthur found it odd, that brief spell of observing Yannick gave him a hunch that the boy possessed an exceptional talent. He then recommended the 11-year-old Yannick to the head of the French Tennis Federation, Philippe Chatrier, and that was the beginning of Yannick’s journey to becoming the most influential tennis figure in the eighties.

He is the second black person to have won the Grand Slam and the first Frenchman in almost four decades to win the French Open – one of the four Grand Slam singles events. He won against defending champion, Sweden’s Mats Wilander, in straight sets during the final, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6. He also won his first top-level singles title in 1978, barely a year after he turned professional.

Born in Sedan, France, in 1960, Yannick was born into a family of sporting personalities. His father was Cameroonian soccer star, Zacharie Noah, and his mother, Marie Claire, a former captain of France’s basketball team and teacher. His father moved back to Africa in 1963 when he picked up an injury that ended his football career, according to African American Registry.

During his 19-year career, Yannick won 476 singles, undertook 23 tour championships in singles, participated in 16 doubles, and only played in the Australian Open and Wimbledon six times. One of his biggest non-major victories but significant accomplishment on the courts was at the ATP Palm Springs Tournament in 1982, defeating Lendl by 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, bringing Lendl’s 44-match win streak to an end.

Prior to Yannick winning the Grand Slam, he played with his teammate Henri Leconte to win the 1984 title over Czech’s Tomas Smid and Pavel Siozil. They were also finalists at the 1985 US Open. In 1987, Yannick and Guy Forget were adjudged finalists at the French Open.

Aside from his dedication to his professional career, Yannick expressed commitment to his French roots. He spent 11 years with the French Davis Cup team, and at some point captained the team in the nineties. During his stint with the team, they won the Davis Cup for the first time in 59 years when they won against the U.S. team. He also captained France’s Fed Cup team in 1997 to win its first championship against the Netherlands.

Yannick has five children out of three marriages he has been in. He was first married to Cecilia Rodhe, who was Miss Sweden in 1978 and is now a sculptor. His second wife was British model Heather Stewart-Whyte, and he is currently married to French TV producer, Isabelle Camus. Yannick is also a musician, he began this journey in 1991 with the album, Black, later released another album in 1993 titled Urban Tribu, and another in 1998 titled Zam Zam.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 22, 2023


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