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Roland Garros: How a French Aviator Became Synonymous with the French Open

Garros the Aviator

Every year, the tennis world turns its attention to the hallowed red clay of the French Open, watching the best tennis players in the world battle it out for a chance at a major championship title.

So what does a French aviator have to do with one of the biggest tournaments in the world? To answer the question, we must go back to August 1909 where Roland Garros, an avid rugby and soccer player was invited by a close friend to attend his first air show in the Champagne region of France where he fell in love with flight. Never one to do anything halfway, Garros bought a plane and taught himself how to fly and then got his pilot’s license.

Fast forward two years, to 1911, where Garros would break the altitude record, ascending to just under 13,000 feet. His love for aviation continued to grow and the word began to get out of Garros’ aviation prowess, drawing crowds from all over Europe and South America.

Again, never one to do anything halfway, Garros set out in search of his next aviation feat; cross the Mediterranean sea which had never been done at the time. On 23rd September 1913, he set off from the French Riviera region and landed in Tunisia, eight hours later with a little over a gallon of gas.

World War I

In 1914, Garros enlisted to serve as a pilot in World War I.

Staying true to form, Garros was an exceptional pilot in the War. He was also a trailblazer, helping introduce an on-board machine gun to his plane that would shoot through the propeller of his plane - at the time planes had little to no weaponry on board. Garros’ machine gun invention would serve him well in the War, helping him win several dog fights against German pilots.

In 1915, the aviator was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, which led to his imprisonment as a POW for almost 3 years. Garros would later escape disguised as a German officer, but his time as POW deteriorated his health, even to the point of near-sightedness which led him to create special glasses so he could continue flying.

In 1918, Garros would take his last flight. He was shot down over the Ardennes, but not before taking out one last German plane.

So What’s In a Name?

The question still remains, what does famed aviator Roland Garros have to do with one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world?

Over the years, Garros was able to build very solid and powerful relationships both at home and abroad. One of those close bonds was formed with Emile Lesueur, president of the Stade Français (French Rugby Team) and Garros’ former classmate. In fact, Garros was actually a key supporter of Lesueur’s campaign to become President of the rugby team.

So in 1927, when the famed French “Four Musketeers” beat the Americans for the first time in the Davis Cup, the French tennis federation also decided to build a tennis complex to continue to grow the sport and the skills of those who played it. At the behest of Emile Lesuer, the stadium was named for his friend Roland Garros.

So there you have it. A man that never played professional tennis is the namesake for one of tennis’ greatest championships.

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