The French have a rich tennis history, with the country being associated with the first form of tennis, Jeau de Paume. The first superstars of French tennis were the famously dubbed “Four Musketeers” – Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Jacques Brugnon & Jean Borotra. In 1925, the French Open was officially considered as a slam event for the first time though the event was held regularly since 1891.
Rene Lacoste became the first ever winner of the French Open ‘slam.’ Up until 1932, he along with compatriots Henri Cochet and Jean Borotra dominated the French slam. Lacoste won 3 titles, Cochet won 4 and Borotra won the title in 1931. The dominance of the Musketeers ended as Bill Tilden, Jack Crawford, Donald Budge and Fred Perry took over the men’s game. The Frenchmen went into a period of dormancy until the outbreak of the second World War.
In the women’s singles category, it was Suzanne Lenglen who won the French Open title in 1925 and 1926. No Frenchwoman won the French Open title for over a decade before Simmone Mathieu entered the big scene. She won back to back titles in 1938 and 1939. The following year, the tournament was not held due to the outbreak of World War II.
In the list of Roland Garros winners, you would not find a few names on the tournament’s official website. These players won the title in the time span between 1941 to 1945. So why exactly Roland Garros does not acknowledge these players as its official champions?
The World War broke out in 1940 and the war limited the number of international players from playing the tournament. The French Tennis Federation states that these years of war were when the tournament was “cancelled.” The effects of the war were especially detrimental to Jean Borotra. The bounding basque was appointed as the Commissioner General for Physical Education and Sports. Borotra tried to reunite the declining French regime through sports. However, his loyalty was questioned and he was sent to jail in 1940. It was in 1945 when Borotra was finally released from prison.
Rene Lacoste was appointed as the President of the French Tennis Federation in 1940. He resigned from the post three years later. Jacques Brugnon flew to United States after France was defeated in 1940. Amidst all the turmoil and dark clouds that hovered France, Cochet fell into war captivity for a brief period time. He was released soon but was not allowed to leave the country like his friend Brugnon. Cochet decided to start his own sporting goods and gave tennis broadcasts. In 1941, Cochet reverted back to an amateur from being a professional to compete in the highest level of tennis tournaments during the war.
Even before the Open Era started in 1968, it was in 1941 when the first open tournament was held in Paris. Cochet reached the finals but lost to Yvon Petra in the finals. The tournament was “open” as both amateurs and professionals were allowed to compete against each other in the same tournament due to the war. In 1942, Cochet was once again beaten by Petra in the same tournament’s finals.
WARTIME FRENCH OPEN – TOURNOI DE FRANCE
MEN’S SINGLES CHAMPIONS
The French Open in 1941 was won by Bernard Destremau who was a tank officer, diplomat, politician and a recipient of the Legion of Honor. He defeated Robert Ramillon 6-4 2-6 6-3 6-4 to clinch the unofficial slam title. The following year, he defended his title successfully after defeating Marcel Bernard in the finals.
In 1943, Yvon Petra, Destremau’s doubles partner (along with whom he won the doubles title at the French Open in 1938) won the French Open. He defeated Henri Cochet in the finals. Petra defeated Cochet yet again in the finals in the 1944.
The 1945 French Open finals were played between Destremau and Petra. Petra defeated Destremau in straight sets 7-5 6-4 6-2 to claim his third title in a row at the Roland Garros.
WOMEN’S SINGLES CHAMPIONS
The French Open held at Vichy France began in 1941 and the first lady to win the title was Alice Weiwers. Weiwers won the title in a dominating fashion 6-3 6-0. The following year she defended her title successfully defeating Lolette Payot 6-4 6-4.
Defending two titles, Weivers was yet again in the finals but lost to Frenchwoman Simone Iribarne Lafargue 6-1 7-5. Two new finalists arose in 1944. Raymonde Veber defeated Jacqueline Patorni 6-4 9-7. Lolette Payot and Simonne Lafargue would reach their second final in five years in 1945. Payot would win the last Tournai de France 6-3 6-4.
Despite the fact that Tournai de France produced quality winners in its five years, the champions are not yet recognized as official winners of the Roland Garros. It is also a controversial issue to raise as the French Open before 1925 was limited to French players and is yet acknowledged by the authorities of the French Open.