Officially named in French as Championnats Internationaux de France de Tennis and famously referred in English as Roland Garros, is a standout tournament in the international sporting calendar and an integral part of the heritage of France. Its legend began 128 years ago, in 1891.
The story of Roland Garros began with the creation of the Championnat de France, commonly referred to in English as the French Championships or sometimes as the French Clay-Court Championships. Initially, the tournament was reserved for the players who were members of French clubs. The first French national championships were held in 1891 in the Stade Francais, as a men’s interclub competition. The first winner was H.Briggs, a Briton who resided in Paris.
Women’s singles matches were added to tournament play in 1897. There were only four entries for the first women’s singles tournament. The mixed doubles event was added in 1902 and five years later, the women’s doubles were introduced. The tournament was not held from 1915 to 1919 because of World War 1. The first big change to the tournament came in 1925 when it was opened up to players from other countries and the “French Open” was born. Between 1891 and 1924, the tournament was held at venues alternating between the Stade Francais, the Parc de Saint-Cloud and the Racing Club de France’s Croix-Catelan grounds. Max Decugis was the hero of this era and won eight titles between 1903 and 1914.
Henri Cochet, René Lacoste, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon – the famous Musketeers won the Davis Cup on American soil in 2017. This win brought about the building of a new stadium at Porte d’Auteuil to defend the cup in 1928. This arena would be named after the World War I pilot and a pioneer in aviation, Roland Garros.
During the World War II from 1941 to 1945, the tournament was held on the same grounds but these editions are not recognized officially. After this hiatus, the English-speaking world started dominating the tournament with players like Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Margaret Court with the latter still holding the record for most Roland-Garros titles with 13, consisting of five singles, four of each women’s and mixed doubles, between 1962 and 1973.
In 1968, the French Championship became the first Grand Slam to become open which allowed both amateurs and professionals to compete. During the 1970s, Bjorn Borg with six men’s singles titles and Chris Evert, with a record seven women’s singles title dominated the tournament. The stadium’s first major expansion came in 1979 with an increase from five to ten courts. Further expansions were carried out in 1986 and during 1992-1994 which saw it increase to its current size of 20 courts expanding over 8.5 hectares.
The likes of Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander dominated the 1980s with three titles each in men’s singles. The latter part of the decade saw the rise of Steffi Graf who went on to win women’s singles titles at Roland-Garros. In the following two decades, the tournament was dominated by Spanish players like Arantxa Sanchez, Sergi Bruguera, Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero with Rafael Nadal leading this club. Nadal has won a record 11 French Open titles between 2005 and 2018 and is deservedly known as the “King of Clay”. At the same time, many of the game’s greats have been unable to get their hand on the prize, including Bill Tilden, Maria Bueno, Jimmy Connors, Louise Brough, Virginia Wade, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams.