The History of Tennis (continued)
The Birth of the French Open
The original French Championship began in 1891 for the men, and in 1897 for the women. At the time, the closed tournament was strictly for French citizens and residents. Then, starting in 1925 the tournament was opened to players from other countries as well.
When we think of prominent players who have changed tennis history, one who comes to mind is the incomparable French champion Suzanne Lenglen. Ranked number one in the world in both 1925 and 1926, she was known not only for her graceful strokes and ballet footwork, but also for her tennis fashion which included plunging necklines and dress hems that extended just below the knee. At first, observers were skeptical of Miss Lenglen's distinctive manner of dress, but soon other women adapted to the style. Her dress became the precedent for the fashions we see today.
In the late 1920's the French dominated men's tennis. Four tennis champions, known as the "Musketeers", were virtually unbeatable: Jean Borotra, René Lacoste, Henri Cochet, and Jacques Brugnon. Borotra was called the "Bounding Basque from Biarritz," known for his energy, speed and acrobatic volleying ability. He always wore a signature blue beret, both on and off the court. Lacoste, nicknamed "the Crocodile," was a self-made champion known and revered for his hard work, devotion and determination. He designed the first tennis shirts, made specifically for tennis. Adorned on the left breast of every shirt was his signature trademark, the crocodile.
Henri Cochet was born in Lyon, France. Growing up, Henri worked as a ball boy at a nearby tennis club thus he became known as "the Ballboy of Lyon." Cochet was recognized for being one of the most naturally gifted players in tennis history. Jacques "Toto" Brugnon was known for his large repertoire of strokes, as well as an extraordinary sense of feel and touch in his shots, which produced a brilliant artistic style. The Four Musketeers are remembered most for winning the Davis Cup for France in 1927 (in Philadelphia). Even though it was their first such win, it was certainly not to be their last. The French had managed to break the long domination which the U.S. had held with the Davis Cup, retaining the silver bowl until 1933 quite a feat!
From 1912 to 1927, the tennis championships were hosted alternately at the Racing Club de France and at the Stade Français, based in La Faisanderie in the park Saint-Cloud. In 1928, the French Open tournament moved its site to Roland-Garros in Paris. The 3-hectare complex was named after an aviation pioneer who had made the first successful crossing of the Mediterranean on September 23, 1913. Although tennis was played at Roland-Garros from 1940-45, the international Grand Slam event was cancelled due to World War II; the tournament resumed in 1946.
In 1968, the French Open became the first Grand Slam tournament to accept amateur and professional players to compete in the same event, as well as being the first to offer prize money to the competitors. The French Open remains one of the most popular tennis tournaments in the world, along with its other Grand Slam cousins the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.
Roland-Garros is a very impressive site, which can accommodate over 30,000 people. The complex is constantly being renovated and improved to ensure maximum enjoyment to all visitors. Center Court, which holds up to 15,166 spectators, is named Court Philippe Chatrier in honor of a past President of the French Tennis Federation. The Court Suzanne Lenglen and Place des Mousquétaires are named after the French tennis luminaries of the 1920's.
Over 400,000 people attend the French Open tournament annually. The court surface has always been red clay (terre battue), which favors long points and exciting rallies from the baseline. Some rallies extend up to fifty strokes. The Roland-Garros complex includes a tennis museum, theatre and library so visitors can relive the rich history of tennis and learn about such French tennis greats as Françoise Durr, Guy Forget, Henri Leconte, Yannick Noah, Mary Pierce, Sebastian Grosjean, Amélie Mauresmo and more, lots more.
The French Open is a two-week tournament that commences every May. It's the place to be for celebrity dazzlement, world class competition and visual excitement. Don't miss it!
Nancy Koran was a nationally ranked amateur tennis player, and also played on the professional women's tennis circuit. She is now a sought-after tennis instructor in New York City and the author of the new book "The Zen of Tennis A Winning Way of Life."
This thrilling new book is filled with tips and proven techniques, interspersed with inspirational stories and quotes from over 50 celebrities in the worlds of tennis, stage and society (including the likes of Regis Philbin, Oliver Stone, Rod Laver, Evonne Goolagong, and many more). "The Zen of Tennis A Winning Way of Life" is an essential guide to the sportsmanship, decorum and etiquette with which other tennis players expect you to be acquainted. The book is necessary reading for both adults and children, as it promotes success not only on the tennis court, but also in everyday life.
"The Zen of Tennis A Winning Way of Life" can be ordered on Nancy Koran's website www.NancyKoran.com, on Amazon.com and other Internet book stores, or by calling 1-800-247-6553.
Image sources: Illustrations of ancient jeu de paume court and early racquet construction, from Dictionnaire des sciences et des arts (Cliché BnF : 88 - C - 133498), courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Jeu de Paume Court at Versailles, from the Collège de Sciences Physiques at l'Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres de Paris. "Le Serment du Jeu de Paume, 20 juin 1789", painted by Jacques-Louis David (1791), courtesy of the Musée National du Château de Versailles. Maldives postage stamp commemorating the bicentennial of the Tennis Court Oath, from Les Prémisses de la Révolution, a web site maintained by Guy Doyen. (1.) Suzanne Lenglen's style on the tennis court, (2.) René Lacoste with Suzanne Englen at Wimbledon 1925, (3.) Jean Borotra at French Championship (1925?), (4.) René Lacoste backhand volley (1926), (5.) Henri Cochet charging the net, and (6.) Roland Garros, aviation pioneer (1913), from Histoire du Tennis, a web site maintained by Bruno Marcorelles. The Four Musketeers with tournament director Pierre Gillan, from "Vive Les Musketeers: The enduring mystique of the French Open", an article by Jim McCready, published in Court Time (May/June, 1997) and on the web site Tennis At the Turn - The Driftway Collection 1873-1938. (1.) Françoise Durr at French Open (1973), © Ed Lacey (photographer), (2.) Henri Leconte (1990), © Stuart Franklin (photographer), (3.) Yannick Noah (1987), © George Herringshaw (photographer), and (4.) Sebastian Grosjean at the Australian Open (2001), © Nigel French (photographer), from Tennis-Heroes.net, a photographic encyclopaedia of sports created by George Herringshaw. Guy Forget playing at Roland-Garros, © Cynthia Lum (photographer), from Roland-Garros web site. All Rights Reserved.
Return to Part 1: The Origins of the Game