VICTOR CROUIN: "JUNIOR TOURNAMENTS ARE LIKE A SCHOOL OF LIFE" (PART 1)Événements 24/05/2018
In a few weeks (on the 16th of June), Victor Crouin will turn 19 years old and will definitely put his junior career behind him. He ended it with a second European Junior Championship title, completing a record list that is only comparable to Grégory Gaultier's and Camille Serme's as far as French squash goes.
According to Victor, it is during those years that a player can “maximize his potential. Thanks to the junior tournaments, I learned a lot about myself, and I also learned how to push my limits and to bounce back after a loss. What I went through during these nine years is so embedded in my memory that I could tell you everything!” Before he leaves to the US, where he will enter the prestigious university of Harvard in September, we took him at his word and asked him to open his memory box. What if we started at the beginning?
By Jérôme Elhaïk
(Cliquez pour lire l'article en français)
(Photo credits: SiteSquash, OFJ 2012, Victor Crouin, Salming Squash)
CHAPTER 1 - THE EARLY DAYS
First steps with squash
Victor discovered racket sports when he was 4 years old, starting with baby tennis. “He instantly showed natural abilities, especially with the way he moved towards the ball,” says his father Emmanuel, who has been and still is a paramount figure in his career. Initially, they played tennis together, but two years later Victor also joined his dad at squash (which was his primary sport, he reached the French top 100 in 2009-2010). For a few years, the youngster played both sports, but it was not long before he started taking part to squash tournaments within his county.
"Victor showed natural abilities as soon as he started." Emmanuel Crouin
Victor was 7 years old when he entered his first squash tournaments. He almost constantly crossed path with Benjamin Aubert - who will be his teammate in the French junior squad a few years later. Aubert, who is eighteen months older, generally had the upper hand, except for their first meeting (although we could not find anything about it on the web, it must have been in 2006 or 2007 according to their recollections).
Victor Crouin (on the right) and Benjamin Aubert - here with Michèle Lecomte - played each other during all their childhood in their county of PACA (Photo credit: https://benjamin-aubert-squash.com)
"It was during a Regional Championship in the club of Set Aix,” Victor remembers. “I had won in five games! But after that I lost a dozen of matches against Benjamin, before I managed to beat him again, especially at the U17 National Championships in Nimes.”
First National Championships
Victor entered his first National Championship at the beginning of 2008 in Rennes. “It was not really a dream start. I'd lost 3-2 in the round of 32 against Florent Auffret from Rhône-Alpes, after being sick the night before and barely getting any sleep.” Nevertheless, he won his 4 remaining matches and finished 17th. Twelve months later, still in Rennes, Victor reached the semis. “I remember in the quarters I got hit by my teammate in the PACA Regional squad, Alexandre Dubarry. I'd always been a little afraid of him because of his very powerful strokes (he laughs)...” He lost in the semis against Jules Cremoux, who for a long time will be his bete noire - we tell you more about that below. But Victor got his revenge against Auffret in the ¾ playoff match. Did he know at the time that it was the first medal of what was going to become a rather large collection?
Victor Crouin (on the right) alongside Guillaume Ducos and Jules Cremoux when he won his first national medal in U11 in 2009 in Rennes (Photo credit: SiteSquash)
VICTOR CROUIN BY ... BENJAMIN AUBERT : "HE WAS DOING LOB SERVES, AND I WAS STRUGGLING TO RETRIEVE THEM..."
Victor Crouin (on the right) and Benjamin Aubert, here before their last meeting a few days ago in a tournament final in Poland (Photo credit: Victor Crouin)
“Yes we had a few matches together when we were young, in fact I think we must have played each other almost 40 times in total. Victor won the first one, I believe I was 8 and a half years old, I am not sure he was 7. It was the semifinals of a Regional Championship in Set Aix: he was doing lob serves, of course I was not very tall at the time so I was struggling to retrieve them... He'd won in five games, and I'd cried a lot (he laughs)! Then for 3 or 4 years we met on every single final on the Karakal Tour, and it was his turn to cry - not always, but very often. I wish him all the best in Harvard."
CHAPTER 2 - NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: VICTOR'S VICTORIES
First title in 2010 ...
“I had played in two championships before the one in 2010 in Rennes, and therefore I'd gained some valuable experience.” Victor Crouin was merciless with his opponents that year, and only Hugo Mandil caused him a little trouble in the final. “The thing I remember the most is the stands behind the centre court in the club of L'Hermine. They seemed gigantic! Of course this title is special to me because it is the first one. But all the others made me proud and happy, because it's never easy to arrive in good shape on the day, and to win when you are expected to.” The boy from Toulon clinched this first gold medal without dropping a game, which will become a habit for him.
One year after his bronze medal, Victor won his first National Championship in U11 in 2010 in Rennes (Photo credit: Serge Parbaud)
“I've always tried to lose as few points as possible. I remember that in the U15 National Championship in Royan (author's note: in 2013), I lost only one before the semi-finals. And in U19 a few months ago, I wanted to win a game 11-0 in all the matches. Setting this kind of goals can be a source of motivation.” This victory in U11 was important for another reason: “It is at this time that I decided to stop playing tennis and dedicate myself to squash, among other reasons because I found it more fun.”
…… and six others followed!
Victor is one of the four French players who was National Champion in the five age categories (alongside Grégory Gaultier, Grégoire Marche and Auguste Dussourd). Besides, he never lost a single match against players from his year of birth. He even won the U17 and U19 titles twice, not dropping a game! “I have to say that I was sometimes more motivated to get a result in the older categories, and that even if they are not gold ones, some medals have made me happier than my titles. Especially the bronze medal in U17 in Nimes, while I was only 14. I'd beaten Benjamin Aubert in 5 games in the quarters, and then I won against Jules Cremoux for the bronze. It meant a lot to me because it was the first time I beat him!”
Besides his numerous titles in his age category, Victor also had great results against older players, including for example in U17 in 2014 (picture above against Jules Cremoux (Photo credits: Victor Crouin)
A few - rare - losses
“Bounce back after a tough loss” is one of the most important things Victor Crouin learned during his junior career. There were very few in the National Championships but some stand out more than others, especially the ones against Jules Cremoux. “When I was very young, I often lost to Benjamin Aubert but he was older than me, while Jules was the only one who prevented me to win the National Championship twice in my age category.” One year older than Victor, the player from Casseneuil beat him in the semis in U11 in 2009, and then in two finals – U13 in 2011 and U15 in 2013. “He was very powerful and physical, all the things that bothered me when I was younger. But over time, I managed to counter his game using other weapons. With hindsight, being less powerful than some of my opponents was a blessing, because I had to develop my own game, using all the front wall and trying to be smarter.” What are the other losses that he especially remembers? “I'd say the one against Enzo (Corigliano) in the U19 final in 2015 with Royan. I was disappointed because I knew I would not be able to equal Grégoire Marche's record in this category (3 titles). But I learned a lot from this match, and if I am not mistaken I haven't lost to him since then. Looking further back, I remember the U15 Championship in 2012 in Chartres when I was 12 years old. I'd lost in the round of 16 against Rohan Mandil, another player whom I struggled with when I was younger, because he was very powerful.”
"Being less powerful than some of my opponents was a blessing."
VICTOR CROUIN BY ... JULES CREMOUX : "HIS PROFESSIONALISM IS WHAT IMPRESSED ME THE MOST"
Victor Crouin (on he left) alongside Jules Cremoux, who was his bete noire between 2009 and 2014 (Photo credit: Victor Crouin)
“I remember that Victor was improving year after year. He was always very mature for his age: he already behaved like an experienced player, with clear goals, warm-up and mental preparation routines which I am sure he designed with his father, and a well-though game plan before the beginning of a tournament. What impressed me most was his professionalism, and I think that's what will make the difference in the long run compared to other French players. He was neither the tallest, nor the fastest nor the most skillful player, but he knew what he had to do, and how to do it in the most efficient manner. Great champions often have this mental edge compared to their opponents, and it is paramount at the highest level. I remember that all our matches were tough battles, we couldn't take anything for granted. One which comes to mind is the U15 National Championships final in Royan. I'd won 3-2 but it was the first time he'd given me so much trouble. He was not too disappointed, in fact he kind of praised himself afterwards. It surprised me at the time, but that's really what fascinates me most about him: his ability not to give up and to learn some lessons - even after a loss - in order to define new goals. If I am not mistaken it was the last time I won a National Championship, and also the last time I beat Victor.”
VICTOR CROUIN ... IN NUMBERS
Victor Crouin won seven National Championships in total, here are five of them (Photo credits: Nicolas Barbeau, Jean-Luc Paquemar, Squash Chartres, Victor Crouin)
In total, Victor Crouin played more than 20 National Championships, including 10 in his age category. His record in these 10 tournaments is the following: 7 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 1 bronze medal (therefore he lost 3 matches out of 50, all of them against Jules Cremoux). He did not drop a game en route to his seven titles. We can add 1 silver medal and 2 bronze medals while playing above his category.
CHAPTER 3 - EUROPE HERE I COME …
First trips abroad ...
Before reigning in his own country, Crouin sought to pit himself against foreign players. He was 9 years old when he entered his first European tournament in Belgium, in the U13 category - in November 2008. “I was supervised by Fred Lecomte,” he says. “He and his wife Michele were like a second family to me. With all the national and regional gatherings, as well as the European tournaments, I was often staying at their place.” Besides, Victor always highlights the crucial role played by Michele Lecomte, a great figure of French Squash who sadly passed away in 2011. “She helped me a lot. And she dedicated a lot of time to the French Junior Open, I always thought about her when I played in this tournament.”
For Victor, Michèle and Fred Lecomte (alongside him at the 5 Nations tournament in 2013) were like a "second family." (Photo credit: Sylvain Zyssman)
In Belgium, Victor was much younger than his opponents. After a walkover in the first round he did not win any match, and it's the only time it happened to him in his junior career. “But I don't have any bad memories from this tournament,” he says. “I rather remember the big number of players, all the details which are not easy to handle when you are so young (shuttles, match schedule, court number, etc), and above all a desire to learn and watch as many matches as possible, whether in my category or the older ones. One of the challenges that I faced was to stick to my routines – such as going to bed early and eat healthily - while trying to fit in in the French delegation. That's not always easy, because there can be competition and jealousy among players when you are young..”
"I wanted to learn, watching as many matches as possible."
First medals …
At the international level, things started to get serious for the young Crouin in 2011. He was runner-up at the French Junior Open – beaten by Jules Cremoux. He also reached the final in Germany and in Belgium, before clinching his first title in Switzerland against England's Kyle Finch, who's always been one of his biggest rivals, alongside Germany's Konstantin Black, and Belgian John Atyeo. (“He was one of my betes noires, although our matches were almost always played in 5 games. He was rather hot tempered on court, and therefore the matches were animated … But he was a great player, and a very good friend. We kept in touch, and I know that he plays hockey at a good level.”) Victor has fond memories from his first title in Switzerland, “because it was the first time I played a final on a glass court, which made me very proud.” In total, he won 12 European tournaments, including five in the Swiss Junior Open (and he reached another final in U13 in 2012, losing to Cremoux). “Every year I said to myself, "you always play well here, so it's gonna happen again” and it worked!” Especially in 2015: a few weeks after losing to Enzo Corigliano in the U19 National Championship final, he got his revenge twice, in Belgium and in Switzerland. These were his first European titles in U19, at only 16 years old.
Victor was very successful in the Swiss Junior Open, for example in 2015 when he beat Enzo Corigliano (on his left) in the U19 final (Photo credit: Pierre-André Loaëc)
British Junior Open: so special ...
You surely know that at the beginning of January, Victor Crouin reached the final of the British Junior Open – which he lost against Marwan Tarek, his future teammate in Harvard - for his last participation. But the Frenchman has always been very keen on this tournament, which is the Holy Grail for the young squash players from all over the world. “Yes this tournament was special in my eyes. I even stopped skiing, a sport that I love, to dedicate all my time and efforts to the preparation for the BJO. Until this year, I'd never gone beyond the quarterfinal stage, but every single time I was sitting in the stands from 10 am sharp on Sunday morning to watch all the finals, and I was dreaming to be part of it one day! And then I went back to training with even more hunger to get stronger for the next event.” Victor was 11 years old when he made his debut in the BJO in January 2011. He was comprehensively beaten by Egypt's Mostafa Abouelmakarim in the round of 16, while the winner was future World Junior Champion Eain Yow Ng from Malaysia. “Most of the matches over the years I lost were against Egyptian players,” Victor says. “I was like frozen with fear when I played them, but I managed to improve little by little year after year. That's the reason why the British Junior Open is so special: there are not only European players, but also an army of Egyptian players, ready to do whatever it takes to win a match (he laughs).”
Six years before they met again in the U19 final Victor had lost to Marwan Tarek in the 2012 British Junior Open (Photo credit: SquashSite)
In 2012, he faced Marwan Tarek in the round of 16. “I did not know him at all, and I felt a lot of pressure because I'd never lost against a player who was younger than me. But this is what happened, because of this pressure as well of the physical dimension he brought to the match. I feel like Marwan has always been more professional than all the other Egyptians. Maybe that's why he got accepted in Harvard, although he's still a bit of a scatterbrain ...” Crouin lost three times in the quarterfinals after that. Including twice against another Egyptian player - Mostafa Montaser - who had also beaten him in the U13 French Junior Open final in 2012. “I remember he offered me a papyrus after the match. I don't know whether it was an authentic one, but I thought it was a very nice gesture. He was a very good junior, being twice runner-up in the British Junior Open (in U15 and U17). But I believe he's had a few serious injuries, which prevented him to play for long periods of time.”
VICTOR CROUIN BY ... JOHN ATYEO : "I HAVE GREAT MEMORIES FROM MY MATCHES AGAINST VICTOR"
Victor Crouin (on the left) alongside Jules Cremoux and Belgian John Atyeo at the 2011 French Junior Open in U13 (Photo credit: Victor Crouin)
“I still follow Victor's results through his Facebook page, which by the way is very well done. We had many tough battles. I have great memories from them, especially the one I won in the German Junior Open final in U13. The match was very intense from beginning to end, and Victor had several match points in the fifth game! He was very fair on court (I am sure he still is) and a very nice guy off the court. He was an opponent, but above all a friend. I hope his squash career will keep flourishing and I take this opportunity to say hi and wish him all the best!”
VICTOR CROUIN ... IN NUMBERS
A bit more than six years went by between Victor's first and last title in an European junior tournament (Photo credits: SquashSite, Christian Lortat)
Between November 2008 and February 2018, Victor Crouin played about forty European Junior tournaments, including eight British Junior Opens, with the following record: 12 gold medals, 6 silver medals and 4 bronze medals.
CHAPTER 4 - MAKING HISTORY
Even though he's always had good results in the younger categories, Victor Crouin stepped up in U19. In April 2017, the Frenchman beat Kyle Finch in the European Championship final, joining Grégory Gaultier, as well as Grégoire Marche as Lucas Serme in the winners' list, and ending a six year reign for England. “It was pure joy, and I will keep this memory in my head for a long time. All the French players who won this title before were successful in the professional world after that, therefore it means a lot to me and without a doubt I rate it as one of my best memories in squash.”
Victor Crouin describes his first European Junior title as "pure joy" (Photo credit: K Photo)
So close ...
A few months later in New Zealand, Victor had the chance to write history even more, and become the first World Junior Champion from France. But he lost in a 5 game thriller against Marwan Tarek in the final.
Despite his loss in the final, Victor Crouin gave a lot of emotions to the French squash community with his run at the World Championship in new Zealand (Photo credits: WSF World Juniors)
“It remains a great memory. It was my first tournament outside of Europe – I did go to many other places since then - and it was a superb event, whose set up was worthy of a World Series tournament. We had a wonderful time with the girl's team, Yann (Ménégaux) and Christophe (physio). As far as the final goes, I must admit that until the British Junior Open in January, I felt frustrated. I relived the match in my head more than once before going to sleep, and I still think about it today. But to be runner-up of the World Championship is a great achievement no matter what, and it reflects my ability to deliver at the right time of the season. I say until the British Open, because I was focused on getting my revenge against Marwan and winning this tournament. But it did not happen, perhaps because I wanted it too much (author's note: he lost in straight games)… But once again, after having played for 5th or even 9th place in the previous seven events, I can be nothing but proud of this.”
"To be runner-up of the World Championship is a great achievement no matter what."
Happy ending ...
Crouin came full circle at the European Championship in Poland at the end of March. After cruising to the final, he saw Czech Republic's Viktor Byrtus close a two-game deficit, but he had the final say. “He really pushed me and I had to use all my experience to come out as the winner. Holding my title was one of my goals this season, and I am proud to have reached it because being the favourite is never easy. ” This win made him the second man to keep the European Junior crown, after Gaultier in 2000 and 2001.
Mission accomplished for Crouin, who became the second player to hold his European Junior title a few weeks ago, following Grégory Gaultier's footsteps (Photo credit: European Squash Champs - U19 2018)
Victor Crouin has built some records which put him almost at the same level than the former world number 1 and Camille Serme as far as French squash goes – they also won two European Junior Championships and were World Junior Championship runner-up, only difference being they won the British Junior Open. Does Victor sometimes compare his career to the French General's? “Yes I do, because it's a way to motivate myself and want to go always further. But it's hard to better Greg, not only because he was so good when he was young, but also because now is a different time for squash.”
VICTOR CROUIN BY ... VICTOR CROUIN : "JUNIOR TOURNAMENTS ARE LIKE A SCHOOL OF LIFE"
According to Victor, travelling and living within a group are among the things junior tournaments have taught him over his years as a junior (Photo credits: Victor Crouin)
“Junior tournaments are a real chance for any young athlete, in a sporting point of view but not only: they allowed me to get to know myself better and to learn how to push my limits, and therefore they helped me grow as a person. As I said previously, it's not always been easy to fit in within the French squad. Sometimes there were tense situations with other players, who ended up becoming my best friends over time! It's funny because I am seen as someone who is very strict and detail-oriented, but during those years I must have lost about ten mobile phones, as well as countless jackets and other clothing items, bottles, goggles, etc. I remember I was close to leave my rucksack in a train once. On the other hand, I never lost a racket (he laughs). What I am trying to say is, it allowed me to travel, to get to learn how to live with others and then to bond with people from other countries speaking in English, a language that I now handle well enough to be able to live in the United States. I think the expression "School of Life" sums up everything, and perhaps some players don't realize how lucky we are to live this experience.”
Don't miss the second part of our focus on Victor Crouin's junior career, which will be released in the middle of next week. The themes covered will be French national junior teams, his future and the recipe for success.