The French, in their eternal quest for liberty, equality and fraternity, are evenly divided on Noah versus Leconte. Generally the intellectuals and the young prefer the cool, mildly counter-cultural Noah, while the settled and solid favor Leconte. No doubt the French bourgeoisie breathed easier when one of their own took over the top spot from an import. Noah seems unperturbed. "There's enough space in France for two Top 10 players," he says.
Actually, a passport isn't the only thing they still have in common. Both live mainly outside France. Noah has an apartment in Manhattan, where he likes the anonymity New York affords him. Leconte keeps a house near Geneva, where he likes the tax laws. When they're on the Cote d'Azur, both train at the same club in Sophia- Antibes near Mougins.
Recently they practiced on adjacent courts in preparation for this year's Italian and French Opens. Noah rattled from net to baseline, sideline to sideline. He leaped and stretched and sprawled. Leconte stood in place like a sharpshooter, bashing serves into a line of empty tennis-ball cans, picking them off like ducks in a shooting gallery. He barely worked up a sweat.
If Leconte's back doesn't completely heal, there's always a second career. "I'd like to be a movie star," he says, "An Indiana Jones or Jerry Lewis." Leconte admires Lewis not so much for his films as for his telethons. "He can make a joke and then suddenly change to be very serious or sometimes to cry," says the tennis star who remains France's Nutty Professional.