Today we continue our presentation of the top 4 seeds with the host country, France. Unsurprisingly, Grégory Gaultier, Grégoire Marche, Mathieu Castagnet and Lucas Serme will be France's line-up for the World Team Championship which starts on Monday in Marseille. After finally conquering Europe within the last few years, these four players will try and clinch a first ever World title at home. Focus on "Les Bleus" with National coach Renan Lavigne.
By Jérôme Elhaïk (Renan Lavigne's interview made by the Fédération Française de Squash)
Lucas Serme, Mathieu Castagnet, Grégory Gaultier and Grégoire Marche have been selected by National Coach Renan Lavigne for the MWTC
France took part in their first WTC in 1981. In their eight first appearances, they finished between 11th and 17th. The emergence of a new generation – Lavigne-Arcucci-Lincou - quickly joined by youngster Grégory Gaultier was a turning point for Les Bleus, who went through the pool stage for the first time in 1999. From then on they became one of the best teams in the world, being runner-ups twice (in 2003 and 2009) and clinching a total of five medals in the 2003-2013 period. The latter being the bronze medal in Mulhouse four years ago, after they lost an epic semi-final lost against England. Since then, the French team has become even stronger, winning their first European Team Championship in 2015 and again in 2017, both times at the expense of England. They want to carry the momentum forward and are aiming for a first world title, even if the competition will be fierce with England and especially Egypt. Obviously, they will rely on Grégory Gaultier, world number 1 and who had an exceptional first semester in 2017. But also on Mathieu Castagnet, who is back to full fitness after a succession of injuries, Grégoire Marche (who just reached a highest world ranking of 21st), and Lucas Serme. All these players have already proved their ability to step up in big occasions, and they will count on the Marseille crowd to help them reach their goal.
The 2003-2013 period was very successful for France at the Men's World Team Championship with five medals (Photo credits: Squash-u.Bild.net / SquashSite / Squashpics)
There was no mystery about France's line-up for this year's MWTC. Although a handful of youngsters have made some progress lately, the gap with the older players remains significant. "We have a quartet with huge experience, which is crucial for an event of this magnitude,” says Renan Lavigne, former France's captain and National Coach since 2012. “Grégory Gaultier has been in the team since 1999 and it will be his ninth consecutive participation, while Mathieu Castagnet and Grégoire Marche have already played twice in the MWTC. Lucas Serme will make his debut because the 2015 event was cancelled, but he's been a member of the team for five years, and has played some big matches during that time.” First one which comes to mind being the European Team Championship final in 2015, where Serme needed one game against Chris Simpson to bring the first title ever to his country, and he raised to the challenge.
Lucas Serme was hoisted aloft by his teammates and staff after bringing the first ever European title in 2015 (Photo credit: Squashpics)
Build-up to the event
The World Team Championship is part of a very heavy schedule, with three World Series played since September and the upcoming World individual Championship from the 8th of December in Manchester. "But it is the same for all the teams," Grégoire Marche said to us a few weeks ago. “The most important thing is that everyone of us is on top form in Marseille.” “There won't have been a specific preparation in the three months before the tournament,” Lavigne adds, “because it would have been at the expense of the players' individual goals on the tour. However, the MWTC was taken into account during summer training, as well as in their planning after that. The aim is that they are on top form towards the end of the week. I've been extra careful as regards to managing and preventing injuries. But I am fully aware that the other national coaches go through the same thing ...” Although they were not 100 % match fit, Grégory Gaultier and Mathieu Castagnet have shown in the recent events (Qatar and Hong Kong) that the physical issues they had suffered from lately were resolved.
Mathieu Castagnet and Grégory Gaultier have shown some positive signs regarding injuries in the last few tournaments (Photo credits: Qatar Classic)
As we mentioned above, France have been one of the best teams in the world since the beginning of the century. With a generation that is now reaching its full potential, les Bleus are now aiming higher. “There is no need to hide our ambitions,” confides Lavigne. “We want to be World Champions. Some may think that I am getting carried away, but you cannot say anything else when you have the world number 1 in your team! Even more so because we won the European title this year with the same team, beating England who won the last event in 2013.”
France won another European title this year and are aiming for the same metal at the world level this year (Photo credit: Retteri Lepo)
Although it would be very surprising to see a team outside the top 4 seeds put their hands on the World title in Marseille, the competition will be fierce, according to Lavigne. “I am fully aware of that, especially because I am coaching at the major events throughout the season. But we are not afraid of anyone and we are focused on ourselves. Egypt are obviously favourites. They have such a strong squad that they are almost unbeatable on paper. But we are ready to seize any opportunity that will come our way. There is also England, whose team is even more experienced than ours. They always do well in team events and will be very dangerous. Hong Kong, with three players in the world top 30, as well as Australia cannot be taken lightly. Neither can Germany nor New Zealand.”
Winners and runner-ups in Mulhouse four years ago, England and Egypt will be France's main rivals in Marseille (Photo credit: SquashSite)
The role of the crowd
The host country has been crowned five times since the MWTC was launched fifty years ago. Renan Lavigne hopes that the home support will make a difference in Marseille. “Four years ago, the crowd in the Palais des Sports of Mulhouse had been amazing, especially during our epic semi-final against England. They were still there when the tie ended at 1:30am in the morning. We didn't look too good when we woke up the morning after and had to go back on court at 11am to try and get the bronze medal. But the players gave everything they had, and the crowd had certainly made a contribution. I don't expect anything less in Marseille. We train in Aix-en-Provence throughout the year, and will therefore be almost at home, in front of a lot of people we know. The crowd will play a crucial part, and we'll try and use their positive energy. I hope that the stands will be full, and that they will be passionate while respecting our opponents. Some people have been following us for many years and we would like to make them happy, because that's also what sporting events are for. French squash is like a family and I hope it'll be together in Marseille to go through a great journey.”
Renan Lavigne hopes that the Marseille crowd will be as passionate as the one in Mulhouse in 2013 (Photo credit: SquashSite)
More info on the French team and its players here.
Tomorrow we'll wrap up our presentation of the top 4 seeds with the favourites, Egypt.