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Roland Garros, see you at the porte d'Auteuil

vendredi 19 mai 2017

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  • Vue d'un jeu de paume, Paris, musée Carnavalet
    Vue d'un jeu de paume, Paris, musée Carnavalet
    (C) RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz

As every year, the world's greatest tennis greatest tennis players will gather from 22 May to 11 June for a fortnight of ferocious competition on the clay courts of Roland Garros. Rich in sporting and recreational iconography, the Agency archives take you through the history of this famous competition.

The French Open is one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the holy grail for any serious tennis champion. It follows the Australian Open in the tennis season (fast courts), preceding Wimbledon (grass) and the US Open (fast courts).

Where does the word tennis come from and why are the grounds called Roland Garros?

Tennis is an English adaptation of the Jeu de Paume (real tennis). The word comes from the French "tenez", which was called out to one's opponent when serving. Transformed in English into "tentez", "teneys", "tenes", to arrive at the term tennis that we use today. The first shot is taken at fifteen paces, then thirty, then forty, from where the unusual method of scoring points comes from. Following the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Duke of Orleans was imprisoned in England for over twenty years. It was during this period of captivity that he introduced the jeu de paume, which he practised daily, to the English. Tennis emerged over four centuries later in England, between 1850 and 1870, played on grass.

In Paris, the story began in 1891 with the first French Championships on clay courts. Only open to members of French clubs, players competed in a number of different locations. A major turning point was reached in 1925, when foreign players were allowed to participate, and the French Open was born. This was the golden age of French tennis: in the women's game, Suzanne Lenglen dominated from 1920 to 1926 in France and abroad. She died of leukaemia at the height of her success at the age of thirty-nine. In the men's game, the famous musketeers Cochet, Lacoste, Borotra and Brugnon reigned supreme. As the magnificent victors in the Davis Cup in Philadelphia in 1927, they returned to Paris as heroes. For the rematch in France in 1928, the decision was made to construct a stadium worthy of the silver bowl. The glory belonged to the quartet. Emile Lesieur was responsible for a portion of the financing, and he named the stadium after Roland Garros, a friend and fellow student at HEC.

So the French Open stadium does not bear the name of a tennis champion but that of Roland Garros who made is mark far away from the clay courts. He was a French war hero and aviation pioneer who died for his country in aerial combat in 1918. He was the first person to cross the Mediterranean in 1913. The stadium was inaugurated on 18 May 1928, ten years after his death. The Davis Cup was retained by the French that year. Since then, the only French players to have won the most demanding of all Grand Slam tournaments have been Françoise Durr in 1967, Mary Pierce in 2000 and Yannick Noah in 1983.

Let's be upbeat and get ready to give the classic Mexican wave to the new generation of French players.