the Denis-Lalanne prize, to the glory of cushioning

It was a nasty blow, an ill-bred limit, a wimpy and unfair way of finishing a point: for a long time, cushioning had a bad reputation. But, in a game of tennis where power dominates more than ever, this shot ended up winning, or regaining, its letters of nobility. And for having masterfully told this story, the Swiss journalist Christian Despont pocketed, in May 2023, the Denis-Lalanne prize, which has become one of the rites of the French Open.

Gently but with humour, as a scientist but with an inspired pen, as a sports reporter but willingly philosophizing on the passage of time, Despont deciphers all the richness of cushioning – “a caress among the thick brutes”. When, how and why champions play cushioning – that quintessential “feel” on the ball. We owe one of tennis’s great strikers, the Australian Rodney Laver, to have been the first to hail Roger Federer as one of the players who rehabilitated the “dropshot”.

Despont, who writes for the site Watson, is not his first shot, so to speak. He has already pocketed two “Lalanne”, an event sponsored by the president of the Federation, now Gilles Moretton, and which honors the memory of one of the great bards of ball games, the late Denis Lalanne (1926-2019).

François Hollande was this year the guest of honor of the jury, chaired by journalist Laure Adler. Both supported by a third guest, our colleague Annick Cojean, who “wouldn’t have arrived there”, at the edge of the crushed brick of Roland, without the inexhaustible curiosity animating an all-terrain reporter. Art editor and project manager of “Lalanne”, Christophe Penot had asked the young Ukrainian painter Olga Novokhatska to reward the winner. Despont returned to Switzerland with a lithograph: Yannick Noah as winner of the tournament. It was forty years ago.


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