Yannick Noah’s professional life changed the day he was seen by Arthur Ashe at a tennis clinic in Yaounde, Cameroon, while playing tennis with a board rather than a racquet. Even though Arthur thought it was strange, that brief period of studying Yannick gave him the impression that the youngster has a special skill. He subsequently referred Yannick, at 11, to the chairman of the French Tennis Federation, Philippe Chatrier, and thus began Yannick’s journey to becoming the most prominent tennis figure of the 1980s.
He is only the second black person to win a Grand Slam, and he is the first Frenchman in nearly four decades to win the French Open, one of the four Grand Slam singles championships. During the final, he defeated incumbent champion Mats Wilander of Sweden in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6. He also won his first top-level singles title in 1978, just a year after turning pro.
Yannick was born in Sedan, France, in 1960, into a family of sports figures. Zacharie Noah, a Cameroonian soccer legend, was his father, and Marie Claire, a former captain of France’s basketball team and teacher, was his mother. According to the African American Registry, his father returned to Africa in 1963 after suffering an injury that ruined his football career.
Yannick won 476 singles, 23 circuit championships in singles, 16 doubles, and only appeared in the Australian Open and Wimbledon six times over his 19-year career. One of his most notable non-major victory occurred at the ATP Palm Springs Tournament in 1982, when he defeated Lendl 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, ending Lendl’s 44-match winning streak.
Before to winning the Grand Slam, Yannick won the 1984 title with colleague Henri Leconte over Czechs Tomas Smid and Pavel Siozil. They were also finalists at the US Open in 1985. Yannick and Guy Forget were named French Open finalists in 1987.
Yannick displayed a strong commitment to his French origins in addition to his professional career. He captained the French Davis Cup team for 11 years, including a stint as captain in the 1990s. During his time with the squad, they won the Davis Cup for the first time in 59 years, defeating the United States team. He also led France’s Fed Cup squad to its first title in 1997, against the Netherlands.
Yannick has five children from three different marriages. He married Cecilia Rodhe, who was Miss Sweden in 1978 and is now an artist, first. His second wife was British model Heather Stewart-Whyte, and he is currently married to Isabelle Camus, a French TV producer. Yannick is also a musician, and he began his career with the album Black in 1991. He later released Urban Tribu in 1993, and Zam Zam in 1998.