- After a heroic week in qualifying and a first round passed fingers in the nose, Lucas Pouille faces Cameron Norrie this Wednesday at Roland-Garros.
- On this occasion, his coach and childhood friend Enzo Py agreed to return for 20 Minutes on the burn-out period experienced by the Northerner.
- He also evokes the reasons that pushed him to try (and succeed) this comeback as improbable as it is successful.
Childhood friend of Lucas Pouille, Enzo Py is today a little more than that. While the Northerner went through a long phase of depression and was on the verge of ending his career, he finally found the motivation to try a comeback as unexpected as successful. And it is to Enzo Py that he turned at the beginning of the year to accompany him in the meanders of Challengers tournaments, from Thailand to the United States.
The one who was initially only supposed to be a moral support for the former world No. 10 has finally turned into a full-time coach. In the front row to witness both the shipwreck of his friend, a little over a year ago, and his current resurrection, he agreed to answer questions from 20 Minutes, while his boyfriend/foal faces Cameron Norrie in the second round of Roland-Garros this Wednesday.
A year ago, when Lucas decided to cut completely, that he was close to saying stop tennis, you would have thought such a return possible?
It's hard to say that we knew, but, yes, we believed in it and we strongly hoped for it. When I say we, it is the entourage, even if in the entourage there are always people who believe in it more than others. I'm happy to be one of them. The small distance that exists between being family and being one of the closest friends, it allows you to have a little more perspective and maybe feel better if you have to believe in it or tell yourself that it's over. I've always believed in it. Anyway everyone was pushing in the same direction and we are all happy to see what happens to him.
It is hard to imagine how hard this period of doubt, of depression as he said himself, must have been for his loved ones. How did you get through that?
At first it was very hard for him. We must not forget that this is his job, this is what he has been doing four, five, eight hours a day since he was fifteen. For the rest, yes, it was also hard for us, his friends, and for his family, his wife. To see one of your close friends or, in Clémence's case, to see your husband suffer from doing his job, it's terrible. The evil is known, it's called burnout. He called it depression. On arrival, it's the same, we talk about something deep and serious. After, during the period when he totally stopped playing tennis, last summer, he was quite well, he was not reclusive at home drinking shots all day as I could read right or left.
He himself said it, he did not sleep more than an hour a night and found himself drinking alone in his hotel room...
Yes, but who hasn't drunk a beer or two, or even ten, at home, all alone, on a night when we are not well and we ask ourselves a thousand questions? It's been a period, and I think it's important to refine that, where... (he searches for his words) We didn't think he was going to commit suicide, but hey, it was very hard. And he lived that alone because he's like that, he's a silencer. Besides, with some friends, we thought we would have liked him to call us if he had cannons to drink (laughs)!
We can feel that the other is bad?
No. We knew it wasn't going well, but Lucas you may have to ask him the question 5,000 times in a row so that in the end he does not answer you and you understand that it is really wrong. He is someone who has such a sensitivity that he has built a gigantic shell over the years. If you ask him if it's okay, he will always say yes, even when it's wrong. And even if we felt that this was not the case, you can not force the person to put words on his discomfort, as he recently ended up doing with your colleagues of L'Equipe. That's it, depression, a little bit of picole, it ended up coming out and I think it did him good.
How to explain, as he himself admitted, his backlash around 24 years old, when he had just joined the top 10?
At some point, when you get almost up there, you have to be able to set new goals and it's not always easy, especially if you feel that they are going to be hard to achieve, that you may have reached your max. You have to be able to raise the bar and find meaning in your daily work. I don't know if it's normal, but I find that there is a form of logic in demobilizing and, for a while, not knowing where you want to go. Once you're 10, the goal is not to be 9 or 8, or 7. What is it then? It's to be up there, it's to win a grand slam. Except that in front during these years you had the three monsters Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who left only crumbs to the competition. At that time, perhaps he did not know how to find these new objectives.
How did he experience his return through the back door, the Challengers tournaments at the end of the world, the money that no longer enters the coffers?
Very bad at first, inevitably, it hurts the ego, it hurts the comfort. But once you accept that, you tell yourself that you have no choice anyway. And then there's what you put into all this. I think it did him good in the end. He said in an interview "I stopped the train before it derailed, before I took the wall". On the contrary, I think that he took it, the wall, and that given what he is doing to us today, we can say that he crossed it and that he got back from it. There are some who stop once the wall is taken, it's over, they are dead. He doesn't, and I find that strong and courageous of him. It doesn't leave you unscathed, that's for sure, you break stuff but you rebuild yourself and you maybe come back stronger on certain aspects. Today we can say it, he has a morale of steel. I find him serene, calm and confident again. However, we know that this is the most important thing in tennis. Confidence takes a very long time to acquire and it is lost in two minutes. The goal is for it to continue in this direction.
He recently explained that it was a phone call from Pierre-Hugues Herbert who offered him to train with him at the CNE ten days before the Master 1000 of Bercy, which changed everything. It doesn't matter anyway!
Yeah, we'll never know if, without Pierre-Hugues' phone call and without this training at the CNE, he would have really stopped, and so much the better I want to say. Good for his daughter, good for Clémence, his wife, who absolutely did not want to see him stop. I think he would have resumed no matter what. But maybe because it's just that I was hoping for the most deep inside.
How do you recover physically after such a break?
Going months without playing is one thing, your body is getting used to the effort, but it is also and especially getting used to the pain. All these guys, these 100, 200, 300 pro players, every day they wake up and they hurt, every day. It's part of the job. And that, you end up forgetting it when you put the racket down, it's not easy to get back to it. So, inevitably, the body needs a few months to get used to it again, to restart the pro mode, but this phase has passed. There remains a legitimate question today that we have not yet lifted, it is his ability to last five sets on the court. In my opinion he is ready. He's going to play Cameron Norrie, a formidable player, we'll see how far we have to go.
Lucas Pouille singing La Marseillaise (French National Anthem) with the Roland-Garros crowd on Court 14 to celebrate his first Grand Slam win in four years 🥲 pic.twitter.com/JhbvWZutfx
— Bastien Fachan (@BastienFachan) May 28, 2023
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What do the 2024 Olympics mean to him?
What we saw on Court 14 between Lucas and the crowd, repeatedly all week, plus his match in the first round, I don't remember seeing that often. Of course there is often an atmosphere with the French players, but I felt something really special with Lucas. I mention this because this relationship with the French public is fundamental for Lucas. I believe that people are sincerely happy to see Him come back, to see what He has been through, and to witness this resurrection. And Lucas is a patriot, he is someone who loves to play for his country, he won the Davis Cup with the France team, so for him the Olympic Games mean a lot. He thinks about it every day and I understand it, doing Games at home, it happens once in a lifetime, and again. It's a real goal for him, a real source of motivation, it's part of the reason he worked so hard to come back from nowhere.
- Roland-Garros 2023
- Lucas Pouille