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The History of the French Open

Championnat de France

The French Open is the second tennis Grand Slam event in the year, and the only one to feature a clay court. Held in the famous Stade Roland-Garros, its official name in France is the Championnats Internationaux de France de Tennis, and is often referred to in English as Roland-Garros. The tournament was launched in 1891 and was exclusively for members of French tennis clubs for the first 34 years of its history. The tournament was called the Championnat de France, or French Championships, and the first edition was won by H. Briggs, a British tennis player who was living in Paris and was part of the Club Stade Francais.

The initial tournament was held in the Societe de Sport de l'Île de Puteaux in the Île-de-France region of Paris. In the following years it moved between the Societe de Sport de l'Île de Puteaux and the Croix-Catelan of the Racing Club de France in the Bois de Boulogne, and the Tennis Club de Paris in the Auteuil region of Paris. Within six years of the creation of the Championnat de France, a women's singles tournament was launched, and then in 1902 the first mixed doubles tournament was created and the women’s doubles were added in 1907.

The majority of the early tournaments, until 1925, were played in the Racing Club de France, and as the Championnat de France was open only to players from French tennis clubs, it was won exclusively by French players, with the exception of H. Briggs. The first competitions were played with a best of three sets match format.

Andre Vacherot was the first player to win multiple titles, winning his first Championnat de France in 1894 when he beat Gerard Brosselin in three sets. He went on to win two more back to back titles in 1895 and 1896, beating Laurent Riboulet and Gerard Brosselin. Following Vacherots three titles, Marseillais player Paul Ayme won four titles in a row from 1897-1900. In the following year, Andre Vacherot won one more title, and so did his brother Marcel Vacherot in the following year.

In 1903, Max Decugis won his first championship, against Andre Vacherot in the final. The two would meet in the final the following year, although in 1904 the structure of the competition changed to a best of five set match format. Decugis won once again, in four sets.

Up until the outbreak of the First World War, Decugis managed to win a total of 8 titles, in 1903, 1904, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1912, 1913 and 1914, making him the most successful player in the men’s singles.

Post First World War One

The 20s saw a few structural changes in the competition. In 1925, the competition became open to all players from international tennis clubs. The Championnats was becoming a hugely popular tennis event in the international world of tennis especially when France won its first Davis Cup. The French competition saw a huge surge in the number of spectators, and in 1928 the competition was moved to a new venue.

The Stade Roland-Garros was built to facilitate France’s defence of their Davis Cup, as well as facilitate all the games in the Championnat de France competitions.

During the 20s to early 30s, the men's competition was dominated by the "Four Musketeers'', Rene Lacoste, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon. The four tennis players were the most proficient players in the Championnats de France and also won a number of other Grand Slams and six Davis Cup wins. Lacoste won the men's singles three times, in 1925, 1927 and 1929. Borotra won the singles twice, in 1924 and in 1931, and Cochet won the single's tournament 5 times, in 1922, 1926, 1928, 1930 and 1932.

In 1925, the Championnats de France competition launched its first men's doubles competition. In the inaugural competition's finals, all four "musketeers" met in the finals. Borotra and Lacoste won the title together in 1925 and 1929, Borotra also won with Brugnon in 1928 and 1934. Brugnon won those 2 titles with Borotra and 3 more, with Henri Cochet in 1927, 1930 and 1932. Borotra won his last men's double title in 1936, with Marcel Bernard. Though the four musketeers usually played in the teams with Henri Cochet and Brugnon on one team and Jean Borotra and Rene Lacoste on the other, they often changed partners.

In 1933, Australian player Jack Crawford won the men's singles competition, becoming the first foreigner to win the competition since the inaugural tournament some 42 years earlier. Up until 1940, the tournament was then only won by non-French nationals. After a hiatus in 1940-45, due to the Second World War, the tournament resumed. There were tournaments held during the war, but these are still disputed.

In 1946, Marcel Bernard won the tournament, and he was the last French player to win the competition in the pre Open era. The men's singles was won by Hungarian, US, Czech, Swedish, Italian, Spanish and Egyptian players (although the Egyptian player was Czech Jaroslav Drobny, who defected from Czechoslovakia in 1948 when the country became communist).

Women’s Competition

Whilst the Four Musketeers were winning the men's singles and making the Championnat de France a worldwide popular event, the women's tournament also featured some equally talented dominating players. Adine Masson won the first edition of the women's singles, which was launched in 1897. The tournament failed to have any entrants in the next three years, meaning Adine Masson won with a bye in 1898 and 1899, and Yvone Prevost won with a bye in 1900. Masson won two more tournaments in 1902 and 1903. Up until the outbreak of the First World War, the tournament was won by pioneering tennis players such as Kate Gillou, who won 4 titles, Jeanne Matthey, who won 4 titles in a row from 1909-1912 and Marguerite Broquedis who won in 1913 and 1914. Broquedis faced a 16 year old Suzanne Lenglen in the final, who she beat in straight sets. Though the outbreak of the war stopped the competition for 5 years, it was only the beginning for Lenglen.

Lenglen and Broquedis met in the final once the competition was launched again in 1920 after the war had ended. Lenglen won the competition this time, and she went on to win three more titles in 1921, 1922 and 1923. During this time, Lenglen even set a record 179 match unbeaten streak, and she helped make women’s tennis hugely popular in France.

When Lenglen became a professionally signed player in 1927, she moved to the US and did not play in the Championnat de France. The opening of the men's and women's competitions in 1925 to international players saw an influx of international talents. Dutch national Kea Bouman won the competition in 1927, the first foreigner to win the women's singles.

In the following years, US Helen Wills Moody won the competition 4 times, British Margaret Sciven Vivian won twice and German Hilde Krahwinkel Sperling won 3 times. In 1938 and 1939, French national SImone Mathieu won the competition.

The women's singles were also put on hiatus from 1940-1945, with disputed tournaments held between 1941 and 1945. At the relaunch of the women's tournament in 1946, US tennis player Margaret Osborne du Pont won. In the years up to the end of the pre Open era, there were a few multiple title winners, including Margeret Osborne duPont, who won 2 titles in 1946 and 1949, Doris Hart who won 2 titles in 1950 and 1952, Maureen Connolly who won 2 titles in 1953 and 1954, Australian tennis players Margeret Court and Lesley Turner, who won 2 titles each, in 1962 and 1964, and 1963 and 1965, respectively. Francoise Durr won in 1967 and was the last French tennis player to win in the pre Open era.

Open Era

In 1968, the Championnat de France was renamed to the French Open, or the Roland-Garros, and became the first Grand Slam event to become open to both amateurs and professionals. The cups awarded to each of the categories are now named after some of the most decorated players from the pre-open era.

Men's Singles champions win the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Women's Singles champions win the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

Men's Doubles champions win the Coupe Jacques Brugnon.

Women's Doubles champions win the Coupe Simone Mathieu.

Mixed Doubles champions win the Coupe Marcel Bernard.

In the modern era, the men's singles have been won by some of the most iconic tennis players such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Bjorn Borg and many others. The women's singles have featured equally impressive winners such as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Justine Henin, Steffi Graf and Chris Evert, to name just a few.

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