Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund prepare to try to reverse British trend of falling short on French Open clay

Simon Briggs
Konta – who faces German qualifier Antonia Lottner in round one – has yet to win a main-draw match in Paris in four attempts - Getty Images Europe

Just days before withdrawing from this tournament with an unspecified illness, the ever-quotable Nick Kyrgios caused a few Parisians to choke on their morning croissants. Speaking into his cameraphone at Wimbledon, he announced “French Open sucks compared to this place.”

Within British tennis, by contrast, Kyrgios’s assertion must have drawn a few knowing nods. Our best men and women have been bombing out early in Paris for generations. So it will be interesting to see how the two highest-ranked players – Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund – fare at Roland Garros on Monday.

Konta – who faces German qualifier Antonia Lottner – has yet to win a main-draw match in Paris in four attempts: a total blank which contrasts with a win-loss record of 23-14 across the other three majors. Edmund’s tally is a little healthier, after a couple of visits to the third round, but he has never exactly thrived, and world No. 40 Jeremy Chardy is unlikely to be a pushover.

It’s funny how crossing the Channel turns out to disconcert a British tennis player more than a long-haul flight to Melbourne or New York. The explanation lies in the treacherous, powdery footing. It is difficult to feel secure when the ground keeps shifting beneath you.

Ironically, clay-court tennis was invented by a pair of Englishmen – the Renshaw brothers, Wimbledon legends of the late 19th Century – as part of a missionary programme to the Riviera.  When grass refused to grow properly in the heat, they crumbled a pile of flowerpots into dust and raked it into a flat surface.

Edmund goes into the French Open on the back of five straight defeats Credit: GETTY IMAGES

A brilliantly ingenious solution, for sure, but hardly one that the Renshaws’ modern British counterparts would thank them for. The changeability of clay, the way it favours intricate spins and sly disguise, fits into a popular narrative about our neighbours. As the German commander in ’Allo ’Allo had it, “The French are very unreliable, especially after lunch.”

Even Andy Murray, whose game has all the variety to succeed here, used to suffer from mild Francophobia. It’s all relative, of course: he still contested the final on Court Philippe Chatrier in 2016. But this has been his least successful major. Plus, he never seemed to feel completely at home in Paris. On one memorable trip in 2011, he got lost on the Metro and then broke a tooth while chomping into a baguette.

Since Murray disappeared down a hip-shaped plughole, expectation has shifted to his successors. Last year, Konta’s edginess spilled over into a rare flash of emotion, when she concluded a heartfelt answer about the pressures of her job with the words “I want to prove these b------s [the assembled tennis media] wrong.”

This week, Konta seems more assured – and understandably so. It was a significant upgrade to finish as the runner-up in both Rabat and Rome over the last month – the latter tournament delivering her biggest package of prize money and rankings points since Wimbledon two years ago. Before this season, she had never even reached a quarter-final on clay.

But Edmund has moved in the other direction, and comes in on a five-match losing streak. “It just is what it was,” he said, somewhat unenlighteningly, on Friday.