The 61st French National Triples, held in Limoges, June 24-25, were won by the team of Philippe Quintais, Henri Lacroix and Philippe Suchaud, playing out of the DUC Club, Nice. The victory was particularly sweet for Quintais, since the French Triples was the one major title he had never taken. Lacroix won the title in 2001, and Suchaud in 1998 and 2002. The “Dream Team” — as the Pétanque press began calling them (in English) after they won their third straight world championship in 2003 — defeated Marco Foyot-Dominique Usai-Pascal Milei, 13-2, in a five-round, lackluster final.
Quintais, arguably the greatest player of all time, is only the third player to have won each of the major men’s championships: singles, doubles, and triples. The other two — Christian Fazzino and Bruno Rocher — are also dominant players today.
We watched several truly great games this year. My favorite was the matchup in the round of 64 between the defending champions, Fazzino-Raphael Rypen-Frédéric Perrin, against three world champions, Michel Loy-Eric Sirot-Claudy Weibel. As Martha Lewis’ photos show, the game was played in incredible intensity, under great pressure. With Fazzino and Rypen taking turns as lead shooter, and both missing, Loy’s team took a quick 11-4 lead. Incredibly, although Loy-Sirot-Weibel made hardly a mistake, they ended up losing 11-13. In the last round, an errant shot took the bouchon back to Fazzino’s balls, ultimately resulting in four points. In another great game, Fazzino lost to Foyot in the 1/4 finals, 10-13.
For many, the most memorable match-up was the semi-final between Foyot-Milei-Usai and the team of Michel Schatz (Passo), Foyot’s ex-partner, from Aix: Dominique Lacroix and Jean-Francois Costa. (Lacroix and Costa won the Marseillaise in 2003, and Passo is a former French and World Champion). Although Foyot would win 13-5, the match was marred by an on-going fight between the two teams that began in the third round and ended, after the game, with death threats. I was present, close to the action, and I later spoke with several of the players and officials involved in the altercation. Here is my version of what happened.
As is well-know on the circuit, Foyot is one of the few great French players who cheats (indeed, he appears to be proud of cheating). He knows all the tricks and uses them. On this occasion, it involved scraping the ground — continuously — at the spot he wished to lob the ball, which is illegal. He did so by pretending to do other things (such as examining the bouchon, or the weight of his opponents balls). In this way, he was able to create a smooth surface, as much as six-inches in diameter, on which to point. Because the court was otherwise quite difficult, with lots of rocks and hard spots, the practice would give his team a 2-3 point advantage over the course of the match. Costa and then Lacroix called him on it, and Foyot ignored them. They protested to the referee; the referee gave a warning, and he ignored the referee. Costa decided (rightly in my view) to go a little crazy. He started screaming at Foyot, walking off the court, appealing to other officials, and so on. The crowd began to boo Foyot’s every move. (French Pétanque crowds love to hate Foyot.) Foyot then got into Costa’s face, and said something which I won’t repeat, at which point Passo began to yell at Foyot. The referees halted the game for 10 minutes. When it restarted, the teams (only Milei stayed out of the fracas) fought over etiquette, with each side going so far as to congratulate the other for pointing badly or missing shots. The crowd’s booing and whistling was deafening. When the game ended, the teams did not shake hands, and Foyot was attacked, physically, not only by the players but by spectators (friends of Lacroix and Passo) who made their way onto the courts. Threats of various kinds were issues. Some were taken seriously: the next weekend, Foyot had three body guards accompanying him to games at the Marseillaise.
For Martha’s photos of the 2006 Triples Championships.
The town of Belfort hosted the Singles and Doubles Championships, July 15-16. In the Singles, Christian Fazzino won his seventh title, the greatest record in French championship pétanque. Fazzino has played in the finals of the Singles Championship ten times, losing three times, but winning in every decade since the 1970s (1975, 1978, 1982, 1990, 2002, 2003, 2006). To get some perspective on this feat, only three other players have won this event more than once. René Coulomb won three times (1980, 1981, 1986); David Le Dantec (1991, 1992), and Michel Briand (1993, 1996) have each won it twice. In 2006, Fazzino crushed his opponent in the final, 13-3 (he also won his semi-final, against last year’s champion, 13-3).
Martha’s photos give some feeling for just how lonely it can be out there, in withering heat and in front of thousands of noisy fans in the French Singles Championship. Fazzino, silent, concentrated, slow and deliberate, seems to love the solitude.
In the Doubles, Foyot and Milei took their revenge, destroying Quintais-Lacroix in the finals, 13-3. Although Quintais pointed proficiently enough, Lacroix managed to miss at least one ball per round, while Milei gave Foyot at least one carreau per round. Milei also won the Doubles with Zvonko Radnic in 1993, and Foyot won it in 1980 with Antoine Stefani. Martha’s remarkable photos of the final give a sense of being there, watching very big players on a very big stage.
A 14-year old, Dylan Rocher, generated the biggest buzz at the tournament, making it to the semi-finals in the Men’s Singles. Dylan (Junior World Champion in 2005) is the son of Bruno Rocher (himself a former French and World Champion). He performed with great poise, refusing to be intimidated by opponents, departmental champions all, shooting aggressively at 10 meters.