Some 35 miles southeast of Paris, down a dusty back road that winds through the lush orchards and glowing wheat fields depicted by innumerable French Impressionists, around rocky outcroppings, past rushing streams and bearing left at the first cow this side of a cluster of stone farmhouses, lies the quiet little village of Nainville-les-Roches. Quiet, that is, until one recent sultry June evening when a caravan of revelers, led by Yannick Noah at the wheel of his white Mercedes 500 SEL, rolled up to the iron gates of the Noah compound, honking and hooting like a traveling circus. So what if the neighbors' chickens were roused from their roosts. Just a few hours earlier, on the blazing bronze clay of Roland Garros Stadium in Paris, Noah had defeated Sweden's Mats Wilander in straight sets to become the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the Champion-nats Internationaux de France. And zut alors, man, that called for a grande fête folle—one helluva bash.
As if signaling the end of the drought in French tennis, a fully clothed Noah promptly did a spread-eagle flip into the swimming pool, touching off a mass splash-in. When his coach, Patrice Hagelauer, begged off, Noah leaped from the pool and, shaking his Rastafarian locks like a retriever emerging from a duck pond, doused him with a whirling spray and then unceremoniously tossed him into the swim of things.
The 50 guests, including Noah's girl friend, Jill Goodacre, a model from Boulder, Colo., actress Annie Girardot and assorted musicians, villagers and other friends, feasted on a buffet of country ham, sausages, cheeses and enough champagne to overflow the pool. Manning the microphone of a supercharged sound system set up alongside the tennis court, Noah crooned to the thumping rhythms of rock and reggae. He then joined a dancefest on the sodden lawn that turned into a variation on mud wrestling. Indefatigable to the end, at 2 a.m. the host rallied a handful of survivors and led a weaving parade back to Paris, where the party raged on until dawn in a dungeonous Left Bank disco.
Neither Noah nor Nainville-les-Roches has been the same since. Thanks to some modern Impressionist with a can of spray paint, the sign at the fork in the road now reads Nainville-les-Noah. And Noah's rural retreat, a former priory with 12 rooms, hand-hewn beams and stone walls as thick as a bank vault, is no longer inviolate. Though the tiny adjoining church was closed down long ago, new worshipers arrive daily, ringing the bell of Chez Noah at all hours, peeking through the gate and scaling the walls to snap pictures.
Sophisticated Paris is no less atwitter. Indeed, barely had Noah hammered home his final winning serve when there were headlines declaring A STAR IS BORN! and breathless accounts of THE FOUR HUNDRED BLOWS OF THE BLACK PANTHER and THE INDOMINATABLE LION OF ROLAND GARROS. At 23 and a rippling 6'4", he is the heir apparent to France's Four Musketeers—René Lacoste, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon—who dominated international tennis in the late 1920s. He has also become "Le Sex Bombe Extraordinaire." Noah's striking café-au-lait visage is everywhere, on billboards, posters and biscuit boxes featuring his illustrated "secrets" for mastering le lob and le serve. Video cassettes of his French Open triumph are selling briskly. Lithographs of Noah in action at $200 a pop are almost ready for the market, while a new pseudo-reggae ballad titled Tie Breaker is a paean to Noah:
Noah, Noah, allez, allez, Noah
All this time you spent preparing
We were there beside you
The Force was mobilized
For us you have been a great example of willpower.
All of which sent Noah fleeing to Corsica, where he rented a yacht and, with 10 of his friends, spent a languid week. Upon his return, he felt more like an inmate than an indomitable lion, holing up for several weeks at his country place or in the spacious apartment he maintains in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, curtains drawn, sticks of fragrant incense smoldering while he assayed practice licks of reggae on his electric guitar and played video tapes of Téléphone, France's top rock band and his good friends.
Until July 26, Noah had a lot of time to kill. Two days after his French Open victory he was suspended from tennis for 42 days and fined $20,000 by the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, the governing body of the sport, for failing to appear at a World Team Cup singles match in Düsseldorf in May. Admittedly not in peak form, Noah commuted to Paris between matches, losing in round-robin singles competition to Russell Simpson of New Zealand and Jose Higueras of Spain. Then, complaining of stomach cramps before his final match, Noah says that he returned to Paris, checked into a clinic and slept through his return flight.
Though he chose not to appeal the suspension, preferring to sit out Wimbledon, which he had intended to do regardless, and an undemanding Davis Cup tie against Paraguay, which France won 3-2, Noah is far from contrite. "I was at fault for not letting the tournament people know I was too sick to play," he says. "But they could have used a substitute. It was a meaningless match anyway because the French team had already been eliminated. So it seems to me that the penalty was far too great."
Much worse, Noah believes, was the one-year suspension and $20,000 fine the council imposed on his good friend Guillermo Vilas for allegedly accepting appearance money for a tournament in Rotterdam in March. The practice of under-the-table payments or "guarantees" is so widespread on the tour, says Noah, that "if you suspend Guillermo, you might also suspend the top 30 players. I just don't think it's good for the game to suspend somebody like Guillermo, a great player who has worked hard and has a good image, for an entire year."