They are famous and have built their reputation in areas far removed from tennis. So much so that we almost forgot that they were, in their time, very good players. Ideal for late dinner conversations in town, and morning discussions in front of the coffee machine.
Gustav V – King of Sweden
The one and only king of tennis, Gustav V, king of Sweden, who ruled his country between 1907 and 1950. An excellent player, strong and well-built, he devoted himself to his passion for 67 years. He even won, under the pseudonym "Mr G.", more than 200 awards in various international tournaments. Creator of the first Swedish tennis club, this particularly enlightened man intervened during World War II with Nazi authorities in order to obtain the release of imprisoned tennis champions. In October 1950, this natural philosopher began his will with these words: "If I die...” And eventually, he died.
Henry VIII Tudor – King of England
Tall, sharp, very agile, rather handsome, and even if inclined to obesity, King of England Henry VIII Tudor, who reigned from 1509 to 1547, also seduced his people with his skills with a racquet in hand. "St. George in person" wrote a Venetian ambassador. A holiness, without a doubt; a hard-working player behind the popularity of real tennis, of course; but a vain, jealous and despotic soul who beheaded his second wife (he had six, Editor's note) Anne Boleyn, no longer able to stand the suspicions of her adultery. Legend has that he had her executed while... he was playing tennis!
Fred Perry – Fashion designer
Once again this year at Wimbledon, many tourists got their photographs taken alongside a beautiful statue and its pedestal surrounded of a flowerbed. "Please do not walk on the flowers and on the grass, you could walk on Fred Perry" always warns the tour guide during the official visit. A bit of local humour as a tribute to the winner of the 1936 Championships, the last British ghost to have won a Grand Slam before Murray at the U.S. Open! The youth of the world knows him from the polo-shirt embroidered with a laurel wreath sported by lads with Noel Gallagher's haircut. Even President Kennedy loved them. A logo that Perry himself borrowed from the London tournament.
Stan Smith – The whole world at his feet
"Many players were wearing the “Stan” because it was the best. But there was jealousy towards me. I remember a South American player who doctored his Stan Smith’s by sticking a Lotto sticker on them, because he was sponsored by the brand. I told him, 'Hey, but you're wearing my shoes!' He replied: 'Yes, but please don't tell anyone". Fond memories of Stanley Smith, Californian, 66, legendary seventies player and member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he's now best known for having lent his name in 1971 to the reverent shoe of street culture: the Adidas Stan Smith, whose production will end in December this year. The end of a myth.
Nasser al-Khelaïfi – President of Paris Saint-Germain (football)
As much at ease in a suit and tie than in thawb and ghutra, the traditional costume in Qatar, this avid falcon hunter is also passionate about tennis. The negotiations for the take-over of the football club from the French capital took place, in fact, in the alleys of Roland Garros. President of the Qatar Tennis Federation and former captain of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas finale, the sports achievements of Nasser al-Khelaifi are, however, not extraordinary. But at least he has the merit to have some: a brief incursion in the ATP top 1000 and a career history showing 32 victories for 84 defeats from 1992 to 2002. Among them, his first official bagel (6/0, 6/1) in 1996 in Sankt Pölten, against the then world No. 2, the Austrian Thomas Muster.
Alain Gerbault – French sailor
A very good player in the 1920s, his name speaks especially to sea lovers. Alain Gerbault was a crazy French adventurer, fond of solitude, who would run off to sea every time he had the chance. Thus, in 1923, Gerbault set sail alone for five years around the world on his famous boat, Firecrest. And upon his triumphant return in France, he ran to watch the 1929 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final between France and the U.S. at Roland Garros. Surprised and full of emotion, the rapturous crowd cheered him and sang the Marseillaise in his honour. French players, themselves, dropped their racquets and climbed to the presidential box to embrace him.
Torben Ulrich – musician, actor, journalist… and father of Metallica’s founder
In general, Metallica fans are amazed when they hear that the father of Lars Ulrich, creator and drummer of the band, was a great tennis player in the 1950s. Before screaming into a microphone, little Lars spent his childhood in the aisles of the biggest tournaments in the world. Dad was a real hippy, who refused to play in the morning, get a haircut or shave his beard. Also a genius clarinettist, one of the best in Europe, Torben was also into philosophy, writing, painting, journalism, television, and even cinema. In 1969, he appeared in a short film by Jorgen Leth, an underground Danish poet who greatly influenced Lars Van Trier. In short, a complete player.
Sue Barker – presenter on the BBC
In 1976, at age 19, she made a hold-up at Roland Garros. The best were absent. She took the title, without really understanding why: "It was expected of me to win and I won. Without doing anything spectacular! On the contrary I haven't played very well... ". Converted chief presenter of the show A Question of Sport on the BBC, she slipped last year by talking - off air - with a makeup artist about the backside of local darts legend Phil Taylor: "Look at the arse on that. You could park your bike down there. He might be as thick as two-short planks, but out of two I’d give him one. He’s useless on the show but I tell the producers we need him – well I like a bit of eye candy you know." She was fired but quickly reinstated. Popular, too popular…
Jacques Chaban-Delmas - Former French Prime Minister
In order not to be bothered by the press, the former French Prime Minister would ask the chair-umpire to always schedule his matches at dawn and to let him play under various nicknames. There was, in particular, "Peremy" - a veiled reference to his position as Prime Minister. In the very late 1960s, the head of government was even surfing, at 50 years old, on top of the second series of tennis. Winner of the veteran double (competition that no longer exists, Editor's note) between 1965 and 1970, he played several times the mixed and men’s doubles at the real Roland Garros. The last time at 53 years old. That was during the famous May 1968...
Patrice Duhamel – Journalist
Before becoming famous journalists the Duhamel brothers – Alain, the unflappable political interviewer and Patrice, the former Director-General at Radio France – were both scratch tennis players. Alain was asked by Francois Mitterrand, no less, to stand-in as the fourth player in a doubles match, but Patrice went even further and took part at Roland Garros… In 1968 he made it through two rounds of qualification: “I was in particularly good form that year. The early closure of university due to the May riots had afforded me the time to fine-tune my game.
Yannick Noah – French singer
This activist singer – engaged for more than twenty years in the fight against war, racism and on behalf of small birds – was also in the 1980s a really quite talented tennis player. Even able to win Roland Garros in 1983…
By Victor Le Grand and Julien Pichené