The figure behind their stirring performances, their coach Baptiste Careme, acknowledges the significance of French-born players rising to the stature of medal contenders, particularly in a category in which the country carried little legacy.
“It’s a matter of pride for us, to be able to achieve this, and qualifying in doubles means you’re in the top 16,” said Careme. “Everyone in the top 16 can expect to do something there. There is not much difference (between the top pairs). I hope it will be a boost for the other French players, I hope they realise anything is possible.”
Gicquel and Delrue have set a scorching pace over the last couple of seasons. Ranked No.49 at the beginning of 2019, they broke into the top 15 by March 2020.
This year, with two semifinals in three events of the Asian Leg, and having won the YONEX Swiss Open, the two 22-year-olds go in to Tokyo 2020 as one of the pairs capable of going the distance.
“The first thing I think about them is that they have all the ingredients to be the best in the world,” says Careme. “They have adaptation skills and they can see the game so well, their reaction times are so crazy, so they’re really talented in a lot of areas.
“We worked a lot with them on the physical areas since the lockdown in March (2020). You can see that on the court. Thom is more powerful, faster on court; Delphine is everywhere now. They’re really confident in their physical abilities now. They have this way of seeing the game, and their technical abilities that can bring them to the top five.”
But with the pandemic having affected the circuit, how have these unusual circumstances and uncertainties impacted training?
“It is really hard, it’s hard for the players, also hard for us, because we need to plan something, but based on what?” says Careme, talking of the tournaments in the qualifying period earlier this year. “We prepared for tournaments but they got cancelled. We had a few small injuries and we thought it was because of that, because we kept preparing and we don’t know, so there are these psychological effects on players, and it was getting too much. But it’s the same for everyone. The players were quite cool with this, but in the end it was annoying, especially for the qualification for Tokyo.”
Careme believes the injuries – like Gicquel’s before the European Championships in April — were due to the uncertainties playing in the mind.
“I think so. Because we keep training hard, and you don’t know if you have the tournament or not, and you really don’t know when to take holidays, and you’re not sure if it’s going to happen. Also, the month in Thailand was tough psychologically because it was really strict and Thom and Delphine played really well, so they needed some time after that, but we had the European Team event, and it was tiring. Obviously we reached the final and it was stress again. We have some players who are not going to tournaments because they don’t have the ranking, and it’s sad for them because they keep preparing, and we have some players going to tournaments, but being stressed, by testing positive (for COVID)… so it’s all very hard psychologically for players. And for us also, because we have to keep training them and trying to change things during training, so that it’s not too boring, we need to find new training and new activities. So it was a tough period.”
Tokyo 2020 is just a few weeks away, and Careme affords himself a glimpse of what he has promised himself after the Olympics.
“I will take three weeks off. After the Olympics, I will turn off my phone for a week or two.”