Hunger for Victory Lands French Father in Prison

Christophe Fauviau's hunger for victory went way beyond cheering loudly during his kids' tennis matches.

For three years, this overeager tennis dad played bartender on the sidelines during tournaments until his final "cocktail" ended in tragedy.

The retired Army man, 46, was sentenced to eight years in prison after the jury deliberated for two hours on Thursday at his trial in Mont-de-Marsan, France. Fauviau was accused of spiking nearly 30 players' drinks so that they would falter at the net against his son and daughter, and causing the accidental death of one of his son's rivals when the player fell asleep at the wheel of his car and crashed.

"I can't imagine being responsible for killing your son," Fauviau said on the first day of his trial, according to French newspapers. "I couldn't handle this sport anymore, seeing my kids play. Somehow, I lost all sense of reason."

Fumbling for words and appearing shaken, according to reports, Fauviau seemed to have shed his "do or die" off-court behavior.

Parents have been known to lose their cool at all levels of play from little league baseball games to high school soccer to the professional world of sports. Serena and Venus Williams' father coaxed great tennis out of his daughters with lots of prodding, and tennis pro Mary Pierce's dad shot off his mouth so much that the Women's Tennis Association banned him from attending matches.

Fauviau's desperate acts seem puzzling, though, because his teenage son never had the makings of a top-tier player or any ambitions of turning pro. The prize money at the local tournaments amounted to a grand total of $50.

So what motivated the tennis club daddy to go out of legal bounds and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of murder? And could the club or the French tennis league have prevented such a tragic outcome?

Judged on Kids' Performance

Retired from the French army since 1997, Fauviau traded his pilot uniform for tennis shorts and began working at a local tennis club. Watching his kids chase balls and seeing future champs, the fit dad began coaching his son and daughter.

The trio became regulars on the tournament circuit. His youngest daughter, Valentine, who was 13 at the time, showed real promise and was among the highest-ranked players in France. His son, Maxime, followed along and won his share of trophies but never drew wild cheers for his on-court performance.

Suspicions about Fauviau sprang up on June 28, 2003, when a player saw him tamper with water bottles before a match. The player handed the bottle over to police.

The next day Maxime crushed another opponent in the final. The player fell ill after the match and spent two days in the hospital. Meanwhile, results from the water bottle came back with traces of Temesta, an anti-anxiety drug that can cause drowsiness.

A week later on a muggy July 3, Fauviau accompanied his 16-year-old son to an evening tournament not far from Dax, a town near the Spanish border, to play 25-year old Alexandre Lagardere. Fauviau offered to get the players water.

"He [Lagardere] told me to fill his water bottle so while he was getting dressed, I slipped a pill and a half and took a pill and a half too," Fauviau recounted at the trial, according to reports. "I never realized that by doing this I could harm anyone."

Fauviau said that he took Temesta for stress and that he always had carried pills.

"In my conscious, I never premeditated anything," he said. "Dropping pills in water bottles became a habit. … I wasn't well at all. … I felt like I was being permanently judged at how well my kids performed."

His kids apparently had no idea what their father was doing.

Lethargic Players, Laced Courtside Drink

Maxime won the first two sets easily when Lagardere withdrew from the match, complaining of heat exhaustion. Lagardere took a two-hour nap to shake it off before getting in his car to go home at 11 p.m. Before midnight, he was found dead, having dozed off and wrapped his car around a tree.

Seeing no skid marks on the road or oncoming cars posing a threat, the police couldn't understand how the athletic young man with no prescription for medication could have died.

The police ordered an autopsy and found Temesta in the man's bloodstream, leading authorities to investigate.

Authorities canvassed local tennis clubs and found that a number of the Fauviaus' opponents had complained of feeling sluggish during matches against them.

On Aug. 2, police arrested Fauviau, accusing him of lacing players' water bottles with drugs.

Tennis Dad's Fate

Three years later, Fauviau now faces a new opponent in a court devoid of grass or clay.

His lawyer, Pierre Blazy, says that the father lost his senses and that the club and the French Federation of Tennis league are also at fault.

That's a charge that Lagardere's lawyers also are pursuing, saying that the league must have known about Fauviau's tampering and overbearing actions.

The French Federation of Tennis denies knowing anything and reiterates this was an "isolated case."

"Nothing has been done regarding security measures [of water bottles] at the local tournament level," said FFT spokesman Christophe Proust. He stressed that at the professional level, security was much tighter and that players guarded their stash of drinks, especially with so many pro athletes being accused of "doping" with performance-enhancing drugs.

A verdict in Lagardere's case is expected next week, at which time the court will have heard from a dozen experts and 27 players who say they suffered from fatigue while playing in matches against the Fauviau teenagers.

Saying he could understand the parents' pain, Fauviau said, "I hope one day you will forgive me if I am found responsible for your son's death."