Henri Leconte is certainly one of France’s greatest tennis legends, but more recently culinary fans in the UK would have fallen for the sport star’s sense of humour and antics when he competed in the latest edition of Celebrity Masterchef.
"The pressure on you in Masterchef is greater than playing at Wimbledon," he told the Bulletin yesterday. Henri cooked his way to the semifinal but it was an apple tart dessert which let him down. "Yes, it was crap. I should have asked my mum, she cooks great desserts. At home, the wife and I share the cooking and I did a little practice before going on the show but I didn’t realise how tough, how stressful the whole thing is. I think if I had got my dessert right, I could have made the final but I really enjoyed it, it was fun and I’m really happy to have taken part.
"I decided to do so to learn more and I did, more than I imagined. Cooking for 100, 120 people, rescue services, cancer teams, working in Michelin star kitchens, you learn so much in such a short space of time and what was also great was talking to the people you have cooked for after each event. And the judges, Greg and Aussie John, are great guys. Very funny, very human and they’re always around to give you a few tips here and there. They also keep you on your toes. And what is also great is you get an instant result. You cook and your food is either good or bad," he said at the Palma Sport and Tennis Club where he is playing in the Legends Cup this weekend for the third consecutive year.
"I love it here, I think it’s the best tournament on the circuit and all the players feel the same. The facilities are so good that I am going to be bringing some French junior players down to train. The clay courts are excellent and every youngster wanting to be successful in tennis has got to play on clay nowadays. We can play clay here in Palma and then hard at the Nadal Academy. Thanks to Moya and Nadal, Majorca is now a hot bed for global tennis. These two guys have put Majorca on the tennis map.
"But while I want to see the kids coming through, I still love playing my tennis. It’s one of those sports that as long as the balls keep coming at you, you keep playing. I practise when I can and play as many ATP Champions Tour events, like this, as possible. I prefer playing doubles now though," he added.
Henri is passionate about young players coming through, all of the players at yesterday’s presentation agreed. "There was a time, back in the '90s for example, teenagers were settled in the top 100 and even making the top 10 but we’re not seeing that lately. We need more characters. We’ve got Roger and Rafa and they’ve both done so much for tennis, but tennis is struggling. Very few tournaments are making money. They are losing money, and that’s not only because of sponsorship issues and tournaments running during the week when people are working, it’s also because of a lack of bankable players. We’ve got Monfils, for example, but that depends on whether he’s having a good day. So while developing young players’ skills and technique, we’ve also got to work on their character. It’s not all about playing tennis.
"Who would have thought that the over 30s would have dominated this season? But when I saw Rafa and Roger make the Australian Open final, I had a feeling this was going to be an unusual and exciting season, and watching Rafa back then, I was pretty sure he’d take his tenth French Open title.
"The other top guns have fallen away - Murray, Djokovic and the likes to injury - but that’s how the season and the schedule is nowadays. Some people might say there’s too much tennis being played but, if you want to be a champion and want to win a Grand Slam, you’ve got to play as many tournaments as you can while staying fit. One thing is beating the top guns in an ATP, it is something else to beat them in a Grand Slam final, so you have to work your way through the ranks and put in the hours. Then, like Rafa and Roger, you’re world number one and you can pick and chose your tournaments. You’ll see with Rafa, he’ll start slowing down now as we near the end of the season.
"I’m glad that the prize money is being more evenly shared out now because, if we don’t get youngsters with character coming through, tennis is in danger."