The Elite tennis center in Cannes, home to Russian players


Gilles Cervara and Daniil Medvedev, at the Elite Tennis Center, in Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), on December 17, 2018.

In the middle of July, far from crowded beaches and endless lines of cars, the Cannes Garden Tennis Club (Alpes-Maritimes) is like a little haven of peace. In the middle of palm trees and umbrella pines, only the sound of bullets mingles with the song of cicadas. A large shaded terrace with tables and armchairs overlooks the turquoise blue clay and hard courts. Some of them are rented by the Elite Tennis Center (ETC), an ociation of liberal coaches founded in 2012 by Frenchman Jean-René Lisnard, ex-84ᵉ world player.

Unlike the majority of sports federations, tennis did not follow the recommendations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which had advocated the banning of Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions a few days after the start of the war in Ukraine. With the exception of the 2022 edition of Wimbledonno exclusion measure has been pronounced and the representatives of the two countries continue to participate in the tournaments under a neutral banner.

The Russian residents of the private structure in Cannes were therefore able to continue to practice there. Among them, Anna Blinkova (38th in the world) trains that morning, for three hours, with his ex-compatriot Varvara Gracheva (40ᵉ), naturalized French at the end of May. A few days later, the two friends took off for the North American tour, which they began on July 31 in Washington DC and which ended at the US Open in New York, where they all two were eliminated in the first round.

Read also on the issue of the reintegration of Russian athletes: Article reserved for our subscribers Reintegration of Russian and Belarusian athletes: tennis, a “model” under tension

The operation of the professional tennis circuit, set up as a model by the IOC President, Thomas Bach, has not however escaped the tensions arising from the geopolitical context, as highlighted by Roland Garros 2023. In March, Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko (46e world), victim of a ” panic attack “, had forfeited before facing the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka (2ᵉ), in Indian Wells (California). The latter had spread over the ” hate ” that the Ukrainian players dedicated to him ” in the locker room “.

A malaise on the circuit that would not have affected the Elite Tennis Center. Here, we ert that “everyone gets along well”, regardless of nationality. But the subject remains sensitive: instructions were given to us not to approach the war in Ukraine with the Russian residents of the center.

“A mentality quite different from ours in France”

Born in Moscow, Anna Blinkova and Varvara Gracheva set down their suitcases on the heights of Cannes respectively at the end of 2021 and in 2017. From their preteen years, they were already criss-crossing Europe in search of better conditions and infrastructures. “In Russia, we play nine months a year indoors, we have to travel a lot and we spend a lot of time in traffic because everything is not in one place”explains Anna Blinkova.

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