Some 35 miles southeast of Paris, down a dusty back road that winds through the lush orchards and glowing wheat fields depicted by innumerable French Impressionists, around rocky outcroppings, past rushing streams and bearing left at the first cow this side of a cluster of stone farmhouses, lies the quiet little village of Nainville-les-Roches. Quiet, that is, until one recent sultry June evening when a caravan of revelers, led by Yannick Noah at the wheel of his white Mercedes 500 SEL, rolled up to the iron gates of the Noah compound, honking and hooting like a traveling circus. So what if the neighbors' chickens were roused from their roosts. Just a few hours earlier, on the blazing bronze clay of Roland Garros Stadium in Paris, Noah had defeated Sweden's Mats Wilander in straight sets to become the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the Champion-nats Internationaux de France. And zut alors, man, that called for a grande f√™te folle—one helluva bash.
As if signaling the end of the drought in French tennis, a fully clothed Noah promptly did a spread-eagle flip into the swimming pool, touching off a mass splash-in. When his coach, Patrice Hagelauer, begged off, Noah leaped from the pool and, shaking his Rastafarian locks like a retriever emerging from a duck pond, doused him with a whirling spray and then unceremoniously tossed him into the swim of things.
The 50 guests, including Noah's girl friend, Jill Goodacre, a model from Boulder, Colo., actress Annie Girardot and assorted musicians, villagers and other friends, feasted on a buffet of country ham, sausages, cheeses and enough champagne to overflow the pool. Manning the microphone of a supercharged sound system set up alongside the tennis court, Noah crooned to the thumping rhythms of rock and reggae. He then joined a dancefest on the sodden lawn that turned into a variation on mud wrestling. Indefatigable to the end, at 2 a.m. the host rallied a handful of survivors and led a weaving parade back to Paris, where the party raged on until dawn in a dungeonous Left Bank disco.
Neither Noah nor Nainville-les-Roches has been the same since. Thanks to some modern Impressionist with a can of spray paint, the sign at the fork in the road now reads Nainville-les-Noah. And Noah's rural retreat, a former priory with 12 rooms, hand-hewn beams and stone walls as thick as a bank vault, is no longer inviolate. Though the tiny adjoining church was closed down long ago, new worshipers arrive daily, ringing the bell of Chez Noah at all hours, peeking through the gate and scaling the walls to snap pictures.
Sophisticated Paris is no less atwitter. Indeed, barely had Noah hammered home his final winning serve when there were headlines declaring A STAR IS BORN! and breathless accounts of THE FOUR HUNDRED BLOWS OF THE BLACK PANTHER and THE INDOMINATABLE LION OF ROLAND GARROS. At 23 and a rippling 6'4", he is the heir apparent to France's Four Musketeers—René Lacoste, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon—who dominated international tennis in the late 1920s. He has also become "Le Sex Bombe Extraordinaire." Noah's striking café-au-lait visage is everywhere, on billboards, posters and biscuit boxes featuring his illustrated "secrets" for mastering le lob and le serve. Video cassettes of his French Open triumph are selling briskly. Lithographs of Noah in action at $200 a pop are almost ready for the market, while a new pseudo-reggae ballad titled Tie Breaker is a paean to Noah:
Noah, Noah, allez, allez, Noah
All this time you spent preparing
We were there beside you
The Force was mobilized
For us you have been a great example of willpower.
All of which sent Noah fleeing to Corsica, where he rented a yacht and, with 10 of his friends, spent a languid week. Upon his return, he felt more like an inmate than an indomitable lion, holing up for several weeks at his country place or in the spacious apartment he maintains in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, curtains drawn, sticks of fragrant incense smoldering while he assayed practice licks of reggae on his electric guitar and played video tapes of Téléphone, France's top rock band and his good friends.
Until July 26, Noah had a lot of time to kill. Two days after his French Open victory he was suspended from tennis for 42 days and fined $20,000 by the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, the governing body of the sport, for failing to appear at a World Team Cup singles match in D√ºsseldorf in May. Admittedly not in peak form, Noah commuted to Paris between matches, losing in round-robin singles competition to Russell Simpson of New Zealand and Jose Higueras of Spain. Then, complaining of stomach cramps before his final match, Noah says that he returned to Paris, checked into a clinic and slept through his return flight.
Though he chose not to appeal the suspension, preferring to sit out Wimbledon, which he had intended to do regardless, and an undemanding Davis Cup tie against Paraguay, which France won 3-2, Noah is far from contrite. "I was at fault for not letting the tournament people know I was too sick to play," he says. "But they could have used a substitute. It was a meaningless match anyway because the French team had already been eliminated. So it seems to me that the penalty was far too great."
Much worse, Noah believes, was the one-year suspension and $20,000 fine the council imposed on his good friend Guillermo Vilas for allegedly accepting appearance money for a tournament in Rotterdam in March. The practice of under-the-table payments or "guarantees" is so widespread on the tour, says Noah, that "if you suspend Guillermo, you might also suspend the top 30 players. I just don't think it's good for the game to suspend somebody like Guillermo, a great player who has worked hard and has a good image, for an entire year."
Nor is Noah pleased with the Association of Tennis Professionals, the men's players' union, for encouraging the council's sanction. "Yes," he says, "I think they wanted to make an example out of Guillermo and me. But one day they will need me and I'll have my revenge." Subsequently, Noah resigned from the union because "Yannick did not feel they were doing a good job for him or the game," says his Paris representative, Pierre Darmon of ProServ.
Recently, flanked by giant portraits of Mick Jagger and the late Bob Marley, the king of reggae, that dominate the living room of his Paris digs. Noah flopped into a beanbag lounger, lit a cigarette and reflected on his life and changing times. For all his aggressiveness on the court, his pumped-up, two-fisted exhortations a la Jimmy Connors, away from the game he is remarkably soft-spoken, gentle and laid back, a panther in repose. The burdens of being ranked No. 4 in the world, the "living behind closed doors and all the pressures from outside scare me." says Noah, couching his English in a kind of free-flowing mellowspeak. "So I'm not sure I want to be No. 1. I think I can be, but I'm not sure I'm strong enough to handle the life of No. 1. It's so hard that at some point you have to become a machine, you have to be very, very cold. I don't want to be like Bjorn. He's a nice guy, one of the best players ever, but he had to become an ice man to survive at the top. To be No. 1 is very exciting, but it changes your life completely.
"Already, since I won at Roland Garros, my life is very different. I can't go to restaurants anymore, can't go out to dance in the clubs the way I used to. Always there are eyes following you, people wanting your autograph and to talk to you about Roland Garros. And I'd rather not because I've talked about it a thousand times. I know the story by heart. It's nice that people like you, and it helps when you're depressed to know that you are not alone, that all these people are behind you. So I try not to disappoint anybody. But I have the feeling that I'm losing control of my life, that I'm being pushed from all sides. I don't want to be eaten up by the star system. I don't want to change. I like myself the way I am."
Shoeless whenever possible, rarely out of his sweat pants, Noah on this occasion is wearing a gaudy, flowered vest that he bought for $3 during one of his frequent tours of the Paris flea markets, the one passion he refuses to curtail because, he says, "I enjoy it too much. What I don't like is getting dressed up. So I buy all my clothes at the flea market, you know, old things, crazy stuff."
Of course, crazy duds that sometimes make him look like a costume-party pasha hardly add to his longed-for anonymity on the street, but Noah has other ideas about disguises. "Maybe," he says, mulling over what may be the most distinctive trademark in tennis since Gussie Moran's frilly panties, "I should change my hairstyle again." Is he kidding? Only his Senegalese hairdresser knows for sure.
"It's funny," Noah says of his dreadlocks, which require a very serious six hours every six months to braid, "but I originally did it just for the hell of it. My sister, Nathalie, had her hair like this, and when she got married last October my little sister, Isabelle, and I decided to do it, too, as a surprise for her wedding. Then I realized it could mean something else. It could mean when I am playing tennis I am representing my Rasta friends, and knowing that gives me more energy."
The Rasta 'do also gave him another unexpected charge. For the first few weeks or so, before the fabled locks were pictured on every magazine cover in France, Noah found that "nobody recognized me." Including the cop who stopped him one night at 3 a.m. for speeding through the Place Dauphine. Unlike the other gendarmes who flag down his bulleting Mercedes on the average, he estimates, of once a week, this one didn't do a double take and then send him on his way with a cheery "Allez, Yannick!" Instead, says Noah, who was without an ID, the cop laid on the "tough eyes," grilled him and threatened to throw him in jail before letting him off with a stern warning.
"All of a sudden," Noah says of his brush with obscurity, "I wasn't a tennis player anymore. I was black and I was a nobody and the reactions of people were completely different. Nothing bad, nothing that could start a fight, just different. In fact, I've never had any problems being black here. It's like Larry Holmes says: When you're black and you have money, then you are not black."
Noah, who figures to earn more than $2 million in prize money and endorsements this year, could afford to change his persona hourly if he so chose. So why doesn't he adopt a new coif, something in the punk rock mode perhaps? "Well," he says, "if I change my hair because I like it better another way, fine. But if I do it because I don't want to be so easily recognized, then it means that the system is changing me. And that's not fine at all; it's very sad."
Problems, problems. Noah thrives on them, he says, because "I don't feel I'm suffering enough. You know, I look around and see how hard life is for other people and I say, 'How come everything is so great for me?' I love playing tennis, and I can have anything I want, and I can give some good times to my family and friends. I mean, it's all so nice and easy that it's boring. And dangerous, because with all this money and all these people admiring you, you can begin to believe you really are somebody special instead of just someone who has been lucky. The money, which is too much, is no measure of your true value. I don't believe I am what I am because of what I do outside but because of what I am inside."
If that sounds like Existentialism 101, you're close. For the past three years, Noah has been attending philosophy classes at Nanterre University outside Paris. He savors the writings of E.M. Cioran much the way the Chinese do the Quotations from Chairman Mao, toting the Romanian philosopher's books everywhere and dipping into them at off moments for quick bracing doses of Cioran's ironic, aphoristic prose. Samples: "To live here is death, elsewhere suicide. Where can one go?" And: "It is from self-hatred that consciousness emerges. I hate myself: I am absolutely a man." And: "History is an immense cul-de-sac. For me, life is a passionate emptiness, an intriguing nothingness."
Not exactly Norman Vincent Peale, but then Noah claims that, for him at least, the power of Cioran's negative thinking is positive. In what way? "It doesn't depend on what you read," says Noah, fashioning an all-purpose aphorism of his own, "but how you read it." And how is that? "Depends on what your needs are at the moment." Oh.
What Noah needs most often, he says, is an antidote to all the dull wonderfulness of his existence. And Cioran, the visionary of darkness, is just the man to lighten up things. "It's like one philosopher says, all of life's big decisions are made on Sunday afternoon because it's so boring there's nothing else to do," says Noah. "And it's true. I make all my big decisions when I'm depressed. So it's good to have some problems. They give you energy. When everything is going great, that's when I need some negative things to make me go farther." Laughing all the way, he says, "Cioran is so pessimistic he's funny. When you reach the point of negativism that he has, there's lots of humor. And I believe humor can save you every time."
A free spirit with a puckish turn of mind, Noah has been known to come on like Eddie Murphy in short pants. When asked after the French Open if he would be the next Bjorn Borg, he said, "No, I'm tanner and have black eyes." And to prying questions about the number of tennis groupies on the tour, Le Sex Bombe says, "Never enough."
Actually, Noah is a one-woman man. Or was. Alas, he reveals that the lovely Miss Goodacre, his live-in amie the past year, recently returned home to Boulder and "probably won't be coming back. Just as it's hard for me to hide and be myself these days, I think it's harder for someone to be hiding with me all day."
Noah has been alone before, far longer than he cares to remember. He was born in Sedan, France. His father, Zacherie, a native of Cameroon in equatorial west Africa, was a professional soccer player for the Sedan team. His mother, Marie-Claire, who is white and the daughter of a French sportswriter, now resides in Nice. She and Zacherie were divorced in 1976. Yannick was two when injuries ended Zac Noah's promising soccer career and the family resettled in the capital city of Yaoundé in the mountainous rain forests of central Cameroon. The rest is history—and literature, the "Yannick Noah Story" being part of the basic reading curriculum for all Cameroon schoolchildren. See little Yannick Noah. See little Yannick play tennis with his homemade racket, which is made of all wood but no strings. See little Yannick clobber all the other children.
"I organized a tournament for my 10th birthday," big Yannick recalls. "Made all the other kids pay a dollar each for a trophy that I knew I would win. It was my birthday present to myself."
See Mr. Arthur Ashe, the famous tennis player, on a good-will tour of Africa in 1971. See Mr. Ashe play with little Yannick on a mud court littered with furry insects. See Mr. Ashe's eyes bug out. "First he serves right down the middle past me," recalls Ashe. "Then he whaps one clean into the open court. Here was this little chocolate-colored person knocking the absolute hell out of the ball. I said to myself, what is this? He hit it then the same way he does now. Only now he's a giant." Ashe laughs. "Our next Great Black Hope."
Later, after giving Noah a new fiberglass racket and a poster inscribed, "See you at Wimbledon," Ashe put through a call to his friend Philippe Chatrier, president of both the French and International Tennis federations, and informed him that "one of your colonial subjects down here is a very, very promising player but he's not going to stay promising if he stays in Yaoundé." Chatrier replied, "Don't worry, if you think he's that good, I need no other recommendation. We'll take him on."
And so the Cameroon Kid, age 11, small and skinny with outsized feet, was bundled off to a school in Nice to train with the French junior team. "At first, I was thrilled," says Noah. " 'Oh wow,' I thought. 'I'm going to live by myself at last! No more parents!' But after a month I realized how lonely I was, you know, living in a pension, going to school and practicing all day." When he returned home at Christmas there were "many tears." Zac, who now owns seven of the 50 tennis courts in Cameroon, a combination nursery and racket club known as Club Noah, recalls, "Yan was very homesick and said he didn't want to go back, that the older kids picked on him, stole his chocolates and so on. I told him that was because he was the youngest and smallest boy there and to be brave, be patient. He would grow up soon enough. In fact, in his 14th year he grew taller and stronger than all the other boys. And then he pounded them—on the court and otherwise."
Eager "to learn about life firsthand instead of from history books," Noah dropped out of school at 17 and moved to Paris under the tutelage of Hagelauer, the coach of the French national team. "Paris is a tough city when you don't know anybody," says Noah, "and the French are so distant it was hard to make friends. I lived in a little apartment, watched TV and went to bed early most nights. I wasn't excited by the circuit, either—too much business, work, money, exhibitions, hotels. I toured for three months in Asia and Australia, and I was never so lonely."
But not for long. While competing in a tournament in Dakar, Senegal, he over-came his shyness long enough to introduce himself to an attractive woman he espied in his hotel lobby. She was 28, a Paris fashion consultant on holiday. Noah was 18. He says, "After one day I was crazy about her and she was crazy about me. She was older, yes, but when you're in love you don't count. We were together for three years and it changed everything. I felt stronger, more confident and I wasn't lonely anymore."
Ah, l'amour. Suddenly the boy became a man and, not coincidentally, a robust presence on the court. From a ranking of No. 305 in 1977, Noah catapulted to No. 49 in 1978 with a pair of wins in small tournaments in Manila and Calcutta. A year later he was 25th, having won back-to-back championships in Madrid over Manuel Orantes and in Bordeaux over Harold Solomon. Noah advanced to the round of 16 at the 1979 U.S. Open before losing to Johan Kriek in five sets and, confirming his promise, to the finals of the 1980 Italian Open, where he played some of his best tennis ever until he lost in straight sets to Vilas.
Prophetically enough, in 1978 Noah not only saw Ashe at Wimbledon but also teamed with him to win a first-round doubles match on Centre Court. In 1981 Noah won his first significant title, the WCT Championships of Richmond, Ashe's hometown, knocking off Gene Mayer in the quarters, Roscoe Tanner in the semis and Ivan Lendl in the finals. Ashe, on hand to award the cup to a teary-eyed Noah, said, "It's hard to believe, Yannick, that just 10 years ago, when I first saw you, you were just this tall, and now...."
In 1982 Noah won his second big tournament, the Congoleum, in La Quinta, Calif. by snapping Lendl's 44-match victory streak. Noah then beat Lendl in a five-set, France-Czechoslovakia Davis Cup tie, and each succeeding meeting has been a grudge match between two sharply conflicting personalities. "What a monster!" Noah says of the somber Czech. "I want nothing to do with him. All that money and he never has the time to smile. He gives the game a bad image."
Noah could burnish his own image by coming to grips with Wimbledon. His reasons for skipping this year's All England Championships verge on the whiny. "I never feel at home there," he says. "I don't have any friends in London. I don't know much about the city. I don't like the rain. The footing is slippery. I have to work on my return of serve...."
In short, Noah doesn't think he has the game to win Wimbledon, but Ashe disagrees. "I think Yannick's going through the same evolutionary stage that Lendl did last year," Ashe says. "He has to realize that he can't just think of himself as a clay-court player. After all, he did win the Richmond tournament indoors. He did win at La Quinta outdoors on cement. And he's just got to make the transition in his mind that 'Hey, cement is not too dissimilar from grass and I can win Wimbledon.' Hell, Lendl went over there this year and got to the semifinals."
One challenge at a time, please. Meteoric as his rise through the ranks has been, Noah, gentle Noah, has not wholly beaten the old rap about his concentration wavering and his being too nice to be a champion. Says Ashe: "I think Yannick's attention span is his biggest weakness. Sometimes he's just like Evonne Goolagong—he goes on a walkabout. He's out there physically, but he's not out there mentally."
As for the killer instinct, Zac, a fearless defenseman in his soccer days, has lectured his son about playing "mean," saying, "You're, one of the biggest players out there. Make sure Lendl and the others know it."
Noah is aware of his shortcomings, but he believes there's no problem that a good siege of depression can't cure. He claims his French Open victory, for example, was the result of a deep dip into the black abysses that occurred in April after he blew two match points before losing to Orantes in the quarters at Monte Carlo. "It was my worst loss in a long time and I was very depressed," says Noah. "I was sick of being good and not great, and right then I decided to devote myself to winning Roland Garros. The closer the tournament came, the harder I practiced, pushing myself when I was tired to go 10 minutes more, 10 minutes more. I had to do it. Ever since I was a boy I dreamed about winning Roland Garros, and I didn't want to end my playing days without knowing that at least once in my life I had given everything I had to try and make my dream come true. The day before the tournament my conscience was clear. I was ready."
In winning all but one set during his seven best-of-five-set matches, Noah exhibited an uncommon ferocity, growling at himself, restlessly pacing like a caged beast between points. But he also played with the reckless élan of a true baguarreur—fighter—taking chances, often pounding his second serve as hard as the first. Repeatedly rushing the net, he used his superb athleticism to make acrobatic saves and drill wickedly angled volleys that dispelled the myth that Roland Garros is the bastion of baseliners. Too nice to be a champion? The guy's a menace.
In the aftermath, Noah's mother could only exclaim, "For me, Yan is a myth!" And when Zac tumbled out of the stands to embrace his son, Noah told him, "We'll talk about this later—the rest of our lives."
Yes, Yan is mythic—when he wants to be. And therein lies a guiding philosophy, an esthetic game plan, if you will, that he developed while changing from a driven youth "who was always under pressure to win, win, win" into a love-struck young man "who didn't care about tennis anymore. I played when I wanted to," says Noah, "and when I didn't want to I was with my lover."
Gradually, however, enticingly, Noah says, "I started to see tennis differently. For the first time I saw it as a game. And I found that by following my feelings, and not those of my coach or my father or the federation, I became more confident. And the more I played the more I enjoyed it, and the more I enjoyed it the better I played." Winning was something else. In fact, Noah's emotion-charged ways on the court are merely his method of compensating for—the whispers were true—a lack of the killer instinct. He says, "I have to push myself that way because I'm not naturally very aggressive. I like the game but I'm not an assassin."
What Noah is, it develops, is a hopeless romantic, a professional athlete who unflinchingly, startlingly, says, "Winning is not my main goal. Beauty is." Is he kidding? Ten thousand Frenchmen can't be wrong. In their eyes, as well as all others who watched Noah at work in the swelter of Roland Garros, he is indeed an artiste with all the right bold strokes. "Yan's the opposite of a machine," says Hagelauer. "He's a man of the heart."
"I am not the typical European clay player," says Noah, stating the stunningly obvious. "You see, I like people who live life with a passion. And in tennis, as in life, I think everyone should go to the net. You can make mistakes but you have to attack. Take risks. Like The Three Musketeers, attack and live dangerously! People who play defense, who wait for others to make mistakes to win are boring. It is so much more exciting to leap and smash an overhead than it is to hit the ball over the net 25 times in a row. It excites me to play that way, to attack for the beauty of the game, and my gift from the people is that they like it, too."
Like some latter-day musketeer, Noah often mounts up and gallops off into the dark forests in chase of his dreams. A year ago in a tournament he won a racehorse, a filly named Iron Dam, and, being a novice in matters equestrian, decided to buy an Arabian saddle horse to get the feel of things. He keeps Caramel stabled near his country manse and does his riding in the primeval 61,000-acre Fontainebleau forest, the former hunting preserve of French monarchs from Fran√ßois I to Napoleon. He says, "You know, my life is usually so hectic it's nice to be alone with your horse in the quiet forest and dream for a few hours."
Noah plays golf for the same escapist reasons, slipping off to a small country course to work on his 22 handicap. When in the city, he also plays soccer games for a team mainly made up of journalists and entertainers. And he can whip up a mean sauce béarnaise, a talent he developed during his lonely Paris bachelor days. "I can make anything," he says proudly. "I'm a very good spaghetti cooker. My specialité is chocolate mousse."
Noah's other abiding passion is cars. He owns six. In addition to the Mercedes, he has a Ferrari, a VW Rabbit, a Jeep, a '54 Bentley and a '52 Auburn. He has learned from bitter experience not to drive the latter into Paris. It's so distinctive that it draws more attention than his locks. "The Auburn's my favorite," he says, "so sometimes I drive it around in the country for 10 minutes and then put it back in the garage." The Jeep he powers up into the desolate ravines near the Riviera and "jumps rocks."
What energies Noah doesn't expend on the court he exhausts on the Ping-Pong table. He has a salle de Ping-Pong at his country spread, but most often he tangles with his close friend, Louis Bertignac, lead guitarist for Téléphone, on a portable table that they set up backstage at various concerts. They go at it before and long after the music has subsided. "Yan has taught me how to clench my fists and growl like he does on the court," says Bertignac. "It helps my game, too." And Yan's guitar playing? "Well..."says Bertignac, rolling his eyes. Then he laughs. "But he does have great natural rhythm, of course."
Noah accepts such harmless gibes in good humor, giving as good as he gets from Bertignac, a comical Frenchman. "My politics are to play on the court and win," says Noah. "I don't know anything about the other kind of politics, and I'm not interested in learning." However, when President Fran√ßois Mitterrand, looking to bolster his flagging popularity, recently invited Noah and his parents to accompany him on a two-day goodwill tour of Cameroon, Noah was hip enough to make certain beforehand that no allegiances—a la Sammy Davis Jr. hugging Richard Nixon—would be expected or implied. And though a throng of 50,000 jammed the airport and thousands more lined the route of the Presidential motorcade, many of them chanting "Ya-neek, Ya-neek," Noah insists, "I'm not an ambassador for any race or any country. My mother is white; my father is black. So inside me I don't feel like I'm black or white. I think I do more for people by winning Roland Garros than I could by going to South Africa and having meetings. Maybe when I'm 35 I'll change, but I don't think so."
Even so, Noah's very presence on the court is a statement. He wears a Cameroon bracelet on his left wrist and on his right a green, yellow and red sweatband, the Rastafarian colors. And, of course, there's that hair. "Looking at it from the black point of view," says Ashe, "the dreadlocks have cemented his identification with blacks in the Third World, all over the world for that matter. They figure a guy in his position at his age willing to do that, hey, they're eating it up!"
Though many assume differently, Noah says, "I am not a Rasta. I do not follow their way of life. I follow none, really, but my own. But I feel very close to my Rasta friends, and I find their philosophy about being happy with simple things, with the sun, the rain, good friends, interesting."
And ganja, or marijuana, which Rastafarians smoke as a sacramental rite? Noah has strong opinions about drugs, some of which he expounded in a controversial 1980 interview in Rock & Folk, a French magazine. Yes, he was quoted as saying, he sometimes smoked hashish but would never think of partaking before an important match. No, he never tried harder stuff like cocaine. But, yes, there were players in every tournament who used drugs, particularly cocaine and amphetamines, to enhance their play. Yes, the practice was becoming more widespread. And yes, he deplored it "because you're not being beaten with the same weapons."
At the time, the suggestion that professional tennis was being overrun by speed freaks and coke heads caused a stir in France but had little impact elsewhere. Most observers seemed to concur with Noah, who dismissed the interview as a "gag" and an "exaggeration." However, Short Circuit, a book by Michael Mewshaw that recaps Noah's remarks in a damning if not wholly new indictment of the greed and other excesses on the men's tour, has given a new currency to the drug flap. For Noah, the worst result has been a lingering suspicion that "I'm somebody I'm not, that I'm on drugs all the time." He will only say now that "this is 1983 and the opportunity for players to use dope is there," that he would never do so himself because it is "cheating" and that he is very much against taking drugs "to forget your problems and escape from reality."
All in all, Noah is a man of the people, all peoples, including the show-me New Yorkers who will crowd the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow for the 1983 U.S. Open, beginning Aug. 29. His suspension having ended July 25, Noah is priming for Flushing Meadow with tune-up tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati. "I'm going to try and play well at the Open," he says, "because it was the first big tournament in which I proved myself. I scored my first big win there, beating Wotjek Fibak when I was 19, and I've felt at home at the Open ever since. I like the atmosphere. I like the courts, and the crowds like me. I can't wait, really. I love New York." Among other off-court pursuits, Noah enjoys taking in Broadway shows and concerts and making the rounds of Greenwich Village jazz joints. But most of all he is looking forward to freedom, the chance to "walk the streets and go to Central Park and play soccer with my friends without being recognized."
Well, he shouldn't count on that, for as Donald Dell, chairman of ProServ, Noah's management firm, notes, "Yannick's name value and marketability have gone way, way up in the U.S. We've been receiving tremendous offers for his services in the areas of men's cologne, automobiles, leisure wear and the like. It's not just France that realizes he is an exceptional human being."
Trouble is, Noah hasn't been dreaming lately, hasn't been playing out the stroke-by-stroke matches he wins in his sleep and in the fantasies he conjures up while riding his horse through the dark forests. "I believe my dreams are signs that I'm going to make it," he says, "and they give me strength. But ever since Roland Garros—nothing. A blank. It's like losing a lover. When you achieve something you've dreamed about for a long time, you have to wait a little while before the warm feelings come over you again. So I'm waiting."
Meanwhile, Noah has been thinking about his role as dream fulfiller. "I've been receiving 100 letters a day from people thanking me for the moment I gave them at Roland Garros," he says. "That hits me in the heart, makes me feel good to know that I've made some people happy. Especially my family. I know how hard it was for my mom and dad to let me, you know, the only boy, leave home. And my coach, all the people who've helped me, I know how happy it makes them to see me do well. I mean, to see my dad crying after I won Roland Garros—woosh! It killed me. When I saw that, well, the only thing I wanted to do was do it again. Giving something back is the only thing. That's why I try hard to win, really, and that's why it's so hard to know if I should stop."
Stop? Yes, claims Noah. If becoming No. 1 means that he must change, he will stop. Sort of. "Not retire but not try too hard and just hide and disappear," he says. "As I get closer and closer to the top, it becomes more and more difficult to know if I want to go all the way, don't want to, do, don't. But I don't want to become a machine. I want to play tennis for the beauty of the game. And if I can't, well...."
Is he kidding? Not really, just working himself into a nice dark depression for the U.S. Open—the kind of black pit that inspires him to make big decisions about his next conquest. Will he go for it? Won't he? Are you kidding? Does a musketeer shrink from the fray? Do dreamers think small? Allez, Yannick, allez!