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The French Open’s First Champion: René Lacoste

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

Lacoste at a Glance

In the beginning of the 19th century, René Lacoste accompanied his father on a trip to England where he witnessed several tennis matches, sparking the younger Lacoste's love for tennis.

His father, a champion rower and famed inventor, was not too keen on his son playing tennis, as he had plans for him to enroll in a prestigious French engineering school. The younger Lacoste was adamant that tennis was his path, not engineering.

Over the course of the next three years, Lacoste dedicated himself to the game of tennis like few others did, quickly rising up the ranks to become one of the top tennis players in the World.

The French Champion

For several years the French Open was only open to members of French tennis clubs. But in 1925, the tournament was opened to amateurs from around the world and deemed an major championship by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Creating the French Open as we know it.

René Lacoste would go on to win the first French Open in 1925, as well as being crowned champion at Wimbledon that same year. In all, Lacoste would go on to win 11 major tournaments (7 singles, 4 doubles) as well as winning the 1927 Davis Cup on US soil as a member of the Four Musketeers. Lacoste was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976.

The Crocodile

Lacoste was nicknamed “Le Crocodile” by fans although the origins of the nickname remain unclear. Some say it was because of Lacoste’s ferocious style of play as his relentless style and toothy grin was known to slowly grind up and wear down his opponents. Others say that the nickname comes from the crocodile skin suitcase that Lacoste would bring with him on the tour. Some say that Lacoste even had a bet with the captain of the French Davis Cup team, with the winner receiving a crocodile skinned bag.

Lacoste would later say of his nickname:

The American press nicknamed me 'the Crocodile' after a bet that I made with the Captain of the French Davis Cup team. He had promised me a crocodile-skin suitcase if I won a match that was important for our team. The American public stuck to this nickname, which highlighted my tenacity on the tennis courts, never giving up my prey! So my friend Robert George drew me a crocodile which was embroidered on the blazer that I wore on the courts.”

In honor of this nickname, Lacoste asked his good friend Robert George to design a Crocodile logo for him that he eventually debuted on his blazer during a match. (See below)

The Lacoste Brand

So how does all of this relate back to the Lacoste brand that we know and love today? Well, after Robert George made his crocodile logo, Rene would go on to debut the brand on one of his now signature short sleeve polos. At the time, most players wore long white sleeved shirts, but Lacoste’s short sleeve breathable polo proved to be a breath of fresh air.

Lacoste would later go on to say of his invention:

“One day I noticed my friend the Marquis of Cholmondeley wearing his polo shirt on the court,” remembers René. ” ‘A practical idea,’ I thought to myself.” It was so practical, in fact, that René commissioned an English tailor to whip up a few shirts in both cotton and wool. “Soon everyone was wearing them,” he smiles.”

In 1951, the brand began to take off as Lacoste began to manufacture polos in other colors. By the 1970’s the brand was a symbol of status - not bad for a brand created by small observation.

Lacoste’s Later Life

Staying true to the innovator he was, Lacoste continued to invent and create well after his hall of fame tennis career was over. He helped make innovations in tennis, golf, and even luggage. In fact, Lacoste helped replace wooden tennis racquets with his invention of the first tubular steel tennis racquet. Overall, Lacoste would go on to file almost 20 patents - he once said that inventor should be on his business card!

René Lacoste passed away in 1996 at the age of 92. His innovations, accomplishments, and iconic tennis brand continue to live on.

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