The French Open has not always been what we see on television today. It is so easy to forget the simple roots that most tennis tournaments started out with when we look at the glamorous and modern depictions that are more common today. Often, the simple history and heritage of a tournament is what leads to its prestige and its inherent meaning to players and spectators.
The legacy of the French Open begins in 1891, when the French Clay Court Championships was conceived, which was originally reserved for athletes who were members of the French tennis clubs. The women’s singles began six years later in 1897, and had only four entries. The tournament was played at several venues, the Stade Français, the Parc de Saint-Cloud and the Racing Club de France’s Croix-Catelan grounds.
The beginning of the French Open that we know of today began when the tournament opened to international players in 1925. The French Open was the birth ground for some of the first tennis stars, notably women’s champion Suzanne Lenglen, as well as the famous French musketeers – Henri Cochet, René Lacoste, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon. The musketeers not only won 10 singles titles from 1922-1932, but also managed to win the Davis Cup in 1927 against the Americans. In celebration of this win, and in preparation of the Davis Cup final in 1928, the French Lawn Tennis Association decided to construct a new stadium that reached international standards. This would be the birth of the Roland Garros stadium.
In fact, the land was given to the Federation on the condition that the stadium would be named after Roland Garros, who was a pioneer in aviation, a former member of the French clubs and a World War One hero. The Roland-Garros stadium began with a humble five courts, and hosted its first championship in 1928. Through time it would evolve into the Roland-Garros we are familiar with today.
As World War Two went under way, many international athletic competitions would be put in hiatus, and the French Open would be no exception. Once the hiatus was lifted, and tennis became a professional sport in 1968, the French Open’s importance and prestige would skyrocket. While facilities began with five courts, it would increase to 10 courts in 1979, and by 1994 it would increase to 20 courts spanning 8.5 hectares. This time would also be the introduction of what would soon become world renown stadiums, Philippe-Chatrier and Suzanne-Lenglen.
While this Slam has created dozens of champions, it has also eluded many greats like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams. This is the beauty of the French Open, the beauty of a surface and environment that even the most skilled tennis players have trouble conquering.
It is where history can be made.