Every year Paris plays host to one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar, with tennis stars travelling from far and wide to compete at one of the four Grand Slams as they look to weave themselves among a rich tapestry of history. But how did it all begin? And how did the French Open venue come to be called Roland Garros? Here we take a look at the origins of the tournament…
When did the French Open begin?
Some 126 years ago, back in 1891, the ‘French Clay-Court Championships’ were born – a tournament reserved for players who were members of French clubs. The venue would alternate between the Stade Francais, the Parc de Saint-Cloud and the Racing Club de France’s Croix-Catelan grounds. In 1925, the event was opened up to players from abroad and the ‘French Open’ came into existence.
Three years later, a stadium was built to celebrate a famous Davis Cup victory by the ‘French Musketeers’ – Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste – who beat the Americans on their own patch. To welcome the Davis Cup final in 1928, the French Lawn Tennis Federation built a new five-court complex that was suitable to host such an event and which thereafter acted as the main site for the French Open. The Stade Francais gave the Federation three hectares of land near Porte d’Auteuil to build the new stadium on one condition; that it was named after Roland Garros.
Who is Roland Garros?
Roland Georges Garros was a World War I pilot, who in 1913 became the first man to fly across the Mediterranean without stopping. Garros was also held as a prisoner for two years in 1915 before managing to escape after a long period in captivity. However, he tragically died just a few months later in an air battle in 1918, just five weeks before the Armistice and a day before his 30th birthday.
What does he have to do with tennis?
A decade after his death, the Stade Roland Garros was erected for the Davis Cup final, but the French pilot had very little, if anything, to do with the sport. Fascinatingly, Garros was thought to prefer rugby to tennis and one of his WWI comrades, Emile Lesieur, actually played a key role in assigning his name to the stadium. Lesieur was a rugby player and served alongside Garros in WWI. After the war, Lesieur chaired the Stade Francais and championed the idea that the new tennis complex should be named after Roland Georges Garros. And the rest, as they say, is history.