(2) 1891-1914
The early years of the Men's French Championship.
Version française - French version
French translation
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The tournament was opened in 1891 under the sponsorship of the Federation of French Associations for Athletic Sports (l’Union des Sociétés Française des Sports Athlétiques). It was held at the Racing Club de France in Paris and was from the outset given the prestigious title of “The French Championship”. 

The opening year was somewhat disappointing. Only five players subscribed and the tournament took less than a day to play out. Few spectators bothered to turn up and, much to the disdain of the French, it was won by an Englishman!!  The victor was a certain Mr Briggs who happened to live in Paris at that time. His victory was largely due to the fact that entries to the tournament were limited to players that were registered with French tennis clubs, which Mr Briggs was of course. Also we shouldn’t forget that it was the English who had brought the game to France in the first place. It’s always important to give the French some sort of excuse!! (The restriction on foreign entries was to remain in place until 1925).

Development of the tournament was slow. It initially became very much a Parisian event. It was opened to women in 1897, although they had a harder time of it than the men. The laws of the game required they wear a very strict attire of skirt over the ankles, corset and hat. All of course in white! Three women subscribed in 1897, only one in 1898, two in 1901, three in 1907………alas……

Finally, with the turn of the century there was a wish to expand the game to greater and more international horizons. Max Decugis, who won the championship at the age of 20 in 1903, was determined to take on the leading players from other tennis playing nations. He was one of the first Frenchman to have aspirations of an international carrier. Max lead the first French team to play in the Davis Cup of 1904. This unfortunately turned out to be a failure since they lost in the first round to Belgium 2/3 although it was the first step towards the subsequently famous French victory in this tournament in 1927. He went on to be the first Frenchman to win a title at Wimbledon. This was in partnership with André Gobert for the doubles in 1911. 

Meanwhile the French Championship was starting to expand and proving successful in attracting more competitors. After one brief riposte at Bordeaux in 1909, it returned on a permanent basis to Paris the following year.


Max Decugis :  8 single men titles  between 1903 et 1914

Two french famous players before 1914:
Max Decugis : 1903-04-07-08-09-12-13-14
and "Fifi" Germot" : 1905-06-10
One small hindrance to growth of the championship was a second tournament that was staged at the Stade Français tennis courts in St Cloud park, a wealthy suburb of Paris. This tournament tried to establish itself as the World Clay Court Championships and was therefore a direct competitor to the French Championship. It was set up in 1912. Therefore, only twelve men and eight women subscribed in 1913. 

In 1914 a very special young lady turned up to compete here. Her name was Suzanne Lenglen. At the tender age of only twelve and a half she got all the way through to the final where she lost to the then current title holder Miss Broquedis. When the championships started again after the end of the first world war, Suzanne was to become the unbeatable queen of her era.

With the end of the war and re-establishment of the two Championships, business took up again much as it had left off. All of the old faces were still there. In 1923 the thirty seven year old François Blanchy finally beat the almost unassailable Max Decugis for the men’s singles title. Max had reached the ripe old age of forty two and had already pocketed the championship eight times! The few new comers included Henri Cochet in 1922 and Jean Borotra in 1924.

The real process of change for the French Championship started in 1923 with the closure of the clay court championships at St-Cloud. Developments were now to come quickly and decisively. In 1925 the championship was opened to foreign players finally establishing it as the undisputed world championship for clay court tennis. In 1927 the great American player and world number one, Bill Tilden, participated. This confirmed the growing international importance of the event since Bill hadn’t previously been seen in Europe since 1921. 

In was in the national celebrations following victory in the Davis Cup that the French decided to build a new dedicated stadium for the rejuvenated championship. The “Roland Garros” Stadium subsequently opened the following year. The four great championships were now all in place as was the opportunity to achieve a true “grand slam”.

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Next story : 1900-1914 The very first years of the Davis Cup.


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Dernière mise à jour : 12 mai 2000.
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Mars 2000.