There is more to the French Open than just featuring clay courts. It is a Grand Slam tournament steeped in history and tradition and symbolizes efforts to first hold a French national tennis tournament more than a century ago. From those beginnings to the 2012 French Open, it has evolved into one the world’s premier sporting events.
These 10 facts about the French Open show the impact it has had on France and the tennis world:
1. Open season
The French Open became the first Grand Slam tournament to allow entries to both amateurs and professionals. It lifted the rule barring professionals in 1968.
2. A club sport
The origins of the French Open go back to 1891 when it began as the French Championships. Entry into the tournament was limited to members of French tennis clubs. That rule was finally lifted in 1925 when amateurs from all nations were allowed to compete for the first time.
3. Built to win
Roland Garros Stadium, the home of the French Open, was constructed in 1928 as part of an effort to support France in defending the 1927 Davis Cup — its first ever title in the tournament. The stadium is named after a French national hero who was a pioneer aviator and combat pilot that was shot down in WWI. Garros is credited with making the first solo flight over the Mediterranean Sea.
4. Not always second
For a brief time, Wimbledon was actually staged before the French Open on the tennis calendar. Following World War II, the French Open was the third Grand Slam of the year after the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 1946 and 1947.
5. Few French Champions
Much like it is at Wimbledon with British tennis players, French tennis players have experienced limited success in the French Open. Yannick Noah was the last homegrown men’s singles winner when he claimed the 1983 French Open title. On the women’s side, Mary Pierce was the most recent French singles champion when she claimed her French Open title in 2000. Just three French women and two French men have won singles titles at the French Open since WWII.
6. La Coupe des Mousquetaires
The trophy presented to the men’s singles champion is called the La Coupe des Mousquetaires (or “The Musketeers’ Trophy” in English). It is named for the four Musketeers, a group of famous French tennis players who helped France win its first Davis Cup in 1927. The trophy weighs 14 kilograms. It is 21 centimeters high and 19 centimeters wide. Each men’s champion receives a replica trophy made from a sheet of solid silver. Replica trophies take 100 hours to complete.
7. La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen
The women’s singles champion is presented with a trophy known as the La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. It is named for the legendary French tennis star. Lenglen took the world by storm, winning a combined 12 singles titles, 11 doubles titles and 8 mixed doubles titles at the French Championships, Wimbledon and World Hard Court Championships from 1914 to 1926.
8. Growing attendance
A record 429,105 spectators turned out for the 2011 French Open. This represents a dramatic increase from the numbers that turned out only a few years ago. In addition, 222,925 spectators came to Roland Garros in 1980. That total increased to 344,970 in 2000.
9. Sunday Start
One unusual feature for the French Open is its annual Sunday start. The first matches of the tournament begin on a Sunday and the tournament stretches over 15 days instead of 14 days like the other three Grand Slam tournaments. The 2012 French Open will start on Sunday, May, 27.
10. Big Money
Prize money is significant for French Open participants. The men’s and women’s singles winners each receive $1.64 million. The overall purse for the tournament is $24.6 million. Even first-round losers don’t walk away empty handed. They each receive $23,670.
John Coon has covered tennis at all levels as a sports reporter based in Salt Lake City. Coon grew up in a tennis loving family. All three of his sisters played competitively and Coon himself enjoys playing at a recreational level.