Daniel Jade, the Lebanese prodigy who became French champion

The 14-year-old Lebanese tennis prodigy won with brilliance both the singles and doubles finals of his first French Championships at Roland-Garros. This is yet another milestone in his rise to the top of French tennis, where he is now one of the most promising players.

Daniel Jade, the Lebanese prodigy who became French champion

Daniel Jade posing with the finalist trophy in the Little Champions tournament after his defeat in the final by Mark Ceban last January in Tarbes. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Daniel Jade's family)

Barely into the French tennis fold, Daniel Jade has already made a name for himself.

Almost two years after arriving in France, he lived up to his new status as French No.1 in his category (13/14 year-olds) on Monday on court 14 at Roland-Garros, outclassing the last competitor standing on his way to his first title.

The score was decisive: 6/0, 6/0, and the victory took just 45 minutes to secure. It was a one-sided match that mirrored Daniel’s previous four rounds, in which he didn’t lose a single set. Better still, he never lost more than two games in a set. And a few hours later, alongside his opponent in the singles final, Jules Rimbaud, he won the doubles title.

Daniel Jade posing with the medal received after his victory in the final of the French junior tennis championships, Monday at Roland-Garros. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Daniel Jade's family)

Norman by adoption

“It’s never easy to play against a friend, but sometimes in tennis you have to,” Daniel Jade told L’Orient-Le Jour. “I told myself when I got on the court that I have to play as if it were against another opponent, and that after the match everything would go back to normal.”

In addition to his skills and technique, which are obvious from the very first stroke of the racket, his strong spirit is his main weapon on the court, according to Olivier Halbout, president of the Normandy Tennis League, where Daniel has played for the past two years.

“Daniel is one of the rare boys who is stronger in competition than in training,” he said. “He’s a warrior, he never gives up. He has a control over his emotions that is surprising for his age, and that’s what makes him better than the others.”

“Anywhere Daniel goes in Normandy, a real wave of affection pours over him,” added Halbout. “You could say that the people of Normandy have truly adopted Daniel and his older brother, as they have left such a strong imprint on people’s hearts.”

The love affair between the Jade brothers and their chosen city began in the summer of 2021, when Daniel and William, two years his senior, left Lebanon to put their rackets to use in northern France. But to understand the relationship between the Jade family and tennis, one needs to go back a few decades.

Daniel Jade during training on clay at Roland-Garros. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Daniel Jade's family)

It all began in 1978, when their 11-year-old father Sami left war-torn Lebanon with his parents. They settled in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, which is home to the most prestigious tennis complex in France: Roland-Garros.

So it was only natural for Sami to fall in love with the little yellow ball, developing a fascination for Björn Borg and Yannick Noah, the last French player to win the French Open in 1983.

This was enough for him to dream of a career in tennis, before devoting himself instead to athletics tracks and then to his profession as a plastic surgeon once he returned to Lebanon.

But the idea of putting away his racket was far from him. With his children, he returned to the courts as soon as William, his eldest son, was able to hit the ball.

“I started introducing William to tennis at the age of four, and he clinged to it straight away,” said Sami Jade.

“On the other hand, Daniel wasn’t really interested in tennis at the time, he was more into soccer. At first, we let him do it, because I believe you should never force a child to take up a sport. But then he realized that his brother and I were having a great time together, and he spontaneously joined in,” he added.

From left to right, Elyse, Daniel, Sami and William Jade, during a French team tournament at the European Nations Championship in Duren, Germany in February 2023. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Daniel Jade's family)

‘After the explosion, we decided we couldn’t leave them here any longer’

William and Daniel’s parents were so impressed by their progress that they entrusted their two budding tennis players to a private tutor. They soon joined the Lebanese federation’s national youth teams, and both went on to win the Lebanese championship on several occasions.

But it soon became clear that the Lebanese courts were no longer large enough for the talent of the Jade brothers, who were on the verge of adolescence.

“When we had the opportunity to travel abroad to have them join international competitions or summer camps, people often told us that it was a pity that Daniel wasn’t given more exposure. Because, by staying in Lebanon, it was clear that he didn’t have many opportunities to grow compared to other players around the world,” said Sami Jade.

Read also:

Ice hockey: Lebanon wins the Arab Cup

The turning point, or rather the tragedy, that speeded up the two brothers’ departure to France, like thousands of Lebanese, was the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion at the Beirut port that left more than 200 people dead and destroyed large swathes of the capital.

“After the explosion at the port, I told myself ‘We’ve got to do something, we can’t keep them here’”, their father said. “That was when I used my contacts in Normandy, since we have family who live there.”

Daniel at the age of 5, in Lebanon. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Daniel Jade's family)

A few months later, the two brothers packed their bags and headed for the north of France, more precisely to Le Vaudreuil in Eure, where their aunt and uncle live.

“It is certainly a shock to move from Lebanon to Normandy,” said Daniel. “It’s never easy to leave your homeland. But once we got settled and joined a training center, it was incredible. The living and training conditions are much better for us here,” he added.

They started to shine right in their trial run during a summer tour in Calvados. It didn’t take them long to catch the eye of the French national tennis technical directorate, which was amazed by the early ripening-potential of the Lebanese players, especially the youngest one, who had accrued no fewer than 16 wins in a row.

“It was the Mont-Saint-Aignan Tennis Club [where Daniel and William are registered] that first approached us,” said Halbout.

“Then, when we went to see him [Daniel], we quickly signed him up for a tournament on the European tour. As he wasn’t yet ranked, we managed to get him a wild card [an invitation] and he went beyond our expectations, winning the tournament. That’s when we realized we had a raw gem in our hands,” he explained.

It was then, at the age of 12, that Daniel joined the doubles excellence program, combining tennis and studies, within the Normandy League, which put all the means at its disposal to promote the development of its new prodigy.

It was an investment that the Normandy managers were quick to make, given the obvious tennis skills of the two brothers, as well as their good ties with their family.

Read also:

Lebanese diver wins medal at Arab underwater photo championship

In the footsteps of Nadal, Gasquet and others

Then it all happened very quickly: Daniel climbed the ranks one by one under the aegis of his coach Robin, and is now ranked 1/6. This rank makes him French No. 1 in his 13/14 age category.

“It was a crazy project and, of course, it was very hard for us to let our sons go,” said Sami Jade, whose practice is still based in Lebanon, as is that of his partner, Elyse, who is a pedodontist.

“But they were ready, and it was our duty as parents to give them every opportunity to succeed,” he added.

“It was important for us to stay together,” said Daniel about his brother William, also ranked 1/6 and one of the top 20 French players of his generation born in 2006.

“We’re very close to each other. We’ve been playing together since we were kids, and we get on even better because we both share the same passion. It pulls us both up,” he said.

The two brothers, who have always been together, will be separated from next season onwards, as Daniel has joined the Pôle Espoir in Poitiers to continue his rise.

“It’s definitely not going to be easy to leave him,” Daniel said. “But it’s the best decision I could have made to keep advancing. I’ll continue to call him every day,” he said.

Daniel Jade clenching his fist after a point won during a match in the Little Champions tournament last January in Tarbes. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Daniel Jade's family)

Although the decision to send Daniel and William abroad was a difficult one, there has been a particularly happy outcome: the entire family was granted French nationality in December, a procedure facilitated by the foreign affairs minister’s intervention.

“It’s a great source of pride to be able to represent France in competition,” said Daniel, adding that this in no way represents a renunciation of his Lebanese origins.

“The fact that I’ve been naturalized opens a lot of doors for me, like representing France in competitions and playing against the best in the French championships. This makes me extremely proud,” he said.

As he racked up titles and trophies, it was only logical that Daniel ended up lining up at the start of the world’s most prestigious tournament in the junior category, the Little Champions, held in Tarbes in the winter.

Following in the footsteps of Rafael Nadal, Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray, he reached the final of the competition, where he was beaten by England’s Mark Ceban.

As fate would have it, Daniel was still playing under the Lebanese flag during the competition, as the decree formalizing his naturalization had not yet been published when he registered to compete a few months earlier.

This article was originally published in French by L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.

Barely into the French tennis fold, Daniel Jade has already made a name for himself. Almost two years after arriving in France, he lived up to his new status as French No.1 in his category (13/14 year-olds) on Monday on court 14 at Roland-Garros, outclassing the last competitor standing on his way to his first title.The score was decisive: 6/0, 6/0, and the victory took just 45 minutes to...