"I always wanted to be useful for my clients," says Brigitte, "and now my client is my husband. I think Henri wants to have serenity, and his family makes him serene." Leconte met Brigitte when she was promoting the French Open for Chirac. Reasoning that photographers would flock to a celebrity wedding, Brigitte decided to stage a fake one at Roland Garros, the site of the Open. She would play the bride.
"Why don't you marry a tennis player," someone suggested.
"O.K.," Brigitte said. "How about Henri Leconte?" She was interested in him, but, although the two had met a couple of times, they had never really had a chance to get to know each other.
"Fine," said Leconte, and they went ahead with the wedding as though it were the real thing, complete with a long French kiss at the conclusion of the ceremony. Leconte was so taken by the charade and his make-believe bride that seven months later they decided to hold an authentic ceremony. Leconte's parents went to the first wedding, but refrained from attending the second. They considered their son's decision to marry for real a little precipitate, and his choice of bride was not quite what they had envisioned. His relationship with them was strained for a while, but these days Leconte says he's back in their good graces.
Brigitte began repackaging her husband's image immediately. She insisted Henri tell his friends to stop calling him Riton, a nickname that means Baby Henri. "I'm not Riton," he said, "I'm Henri." Not everyone was convinced. "He's always been fairly outspoken, a little naive, very first-degree [spontaneous]," says Noah. "Now, suddenly, he wants to be Mr. Henri. For most of us, though, he's still Riton. I always think of him as a child."
Leconte's collection of T-shirts does little to persuade one to think otherwise. A few weeks ago he appeared at the Monte Carlo Country Club wearing one that read ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET. He was practicing with Becker, who would be playing in the Monte Carlo Open the next week. As they descended on center court, 34-year-old Vilas scurried off. He is a two-time champion at Monte Carlo.
Brigitte observed his departure from the stands. "A few years ago," she said, "the people who run this place would have rolled out the carpet to have Vilas. Now, if Boris or Henri wants center court, he must go elsewhere." Her tone had a certain elegiac quality. "At 30, a tennis player starts over," Brigitte continued. "No more fans, no more press, no more nothing. All he has left is his wife, his children and his friends, which he can count on one hand. I understand because I lived that thing."
Brigitte was married to Guy Drut, the French hurdler who won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. Drut's attempts to carry his celebrity into politics proved futile. "I think Henri will have a big head never," predicts Brigitte. "In France, we have a saying: You must have your foot on the trellis and not in the air."
Down at courtside, Leconte planted his feet on the red clay. He twirled his racket like a baton, aimed it like a tommy gun, leaned on it as though it were a cane. He dashed to the net, double-pumped to fake a smash and then dropped the ball neatly a foot over the net. He got a big laugh from the gallery.
"Only on the court is Henri free to be himself," says Noah. "He reacts the way he feels. It's much more fun to play him than have Lendl glower at you or McEnroe scream and give fingers all over the place. It's the way tennis is supposed to be."