Let it be said: the history of the Monte Carlo ATP World Tour Masters, which starts this week in the South of France, is also the story of Monaco’s royal family. Without their patronage and keen sense of sports policy, the tournament would probably not be one of the most popular of the tour like it is today. Moreover, monarchies and principalities have always maintained close, strange and sometimes dangerous liaisons with the sport once called "the game of kings and king of games". Proof by ten.
1/ Henri IV, Francis Ist and Louis X – Kings of France
Apart from fencing, which sport can boast of having such illustrious champions than Henry VIII and on the other side of the Channel, Henry IV and Francis Ist? The ancestor of tennis or « real tennis » was often called «game of kings and king of games». Even Louis X le Hutin died on the 5th of June 1316 in Vincennes after getting a cold during a tennis match. «All the Kings played it until Louis XIV, who had to give it up because he had gout,» says Gil Kressmann, honorary president of the real tennis society, in an article published in French newspaper Le Monde. French passion par excellence, real tennis was then exported during the Renaissance in Europe, reaching the U.S. and even Australia. Robert Dallington, an English teacher, even wrote after a visit to France in 1598: « France, a country with more tennis courts than churches and more tennis players than beer drinkers in England. »
2/ Henri VIII Tudor – King of England
Tall, rather handsome, even if prone to obesity, King Henry VIII Tudor, who reigned over England from 1509 to 1547, was famous for his athletic abilities. Excellent horse rider, strong archer, he also had some dexterity racquet in hand. « It is very enjoyable to watch him play tennis. He was Saint Georges in person, » even said the Venetian ambassador Giustiniani. A true holiness, without a doubt, an avid player behind the popularity of tennis, certainly, but a vain, despotic and jealous soul who beheaded his second wife (he had six, ed) Anne Boleyn, no longer able to stand the suspicions of adultery brought on her. Legend has it that she was executed... while he was playing tennis!
3/ Alexandrina Victoria, also known as Queen Victoria – Queen of England
Although she never attended Wimbledon, Queen Victoria is the direct cause of tennis universalization. Queen without any real power, crowned at 18, she remains the figure of the British Empire at its peak. A policy of conquest - in Africa, America and Oceania - without which tennis would not be as prevalent in the world. She even was the first head of the Queen's club, named after her, and which hosts the annual eponymous tournament. It was also because she was spending her holidays in France that tennis, out of snobbery, developed there. On the day of her death, on the 22nd of January 1901, the Echo de Paris devoted an entire page to the event: « In France, we didn’t think that she was generous, oh no! But she was very popular - we loved to see her, always very heavy, very fat, very slumped, packed into her small car (...) Hers eyes seemed switched off, always gloomy. »
4/ Elisabeth II – Queen of England
If there is a royal who never cared much about tennis, then it’s definitely the Queen of England, Elizabeth II. Why? Because she has many other passions, such as hunting, dogs, walks through the countryside and horse racing. While her husband, Prince Philip of Edinburgh, loves hunting, and her grandchildren, William and Harry, only swear by football and rugby, tennis doesn’t hold any place in the royal gallery. On the throne since 1952, she only went to Wimbledon four times. Her penultimate visit dates back to 1977, after which she said about women's tennis - and not without a touch of British humour: « I did not think that it was possible to play tennis and be such a lovely woman. »
5/ Mary I of England (Tudor) – Queen of England
Most ancestors of Elizabeth, however, were regular visitors of Wimbledon. Queen Mary Ist, wife of George V, only missed the tournament three times between 1919 and 1951. In 1926, there even was a clash between the Queen and Suzanne Lenglen. The reason? During her annual visit at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Queen Mary Ist asked for the French champion - of whom she was a fervent admirer – to be present at all times. Since the Majesty was there the afternoon, the Umpire changed the schedule at the last moment, forcing Lenglen to play her singles and her doubles matches one after another. A change that she categorically refused. She then had an awful nervous breakdown, took refuge in the changing rooms and banged her head against the walls. Queen Mary waited a few minutes in the empty court before leaving. The public turned against the idol. The Royal Family refused to receive her. The next day, the headlines of every newspaper said: « Suzanne Lenglen defied the Queen of England. » This incident would mark forever the career of the player, who left the tournament two days later, never to return.
6/ Mary I of England (Tudor) – Queen of England (again)
Each visit of Queen Mary Ist was quite an event. And every afternoon, quite an organization! Exasperated by the sun, as the day waned, the Queen was asking to move up one rank in the stands to remain in the shade. In the royal box, everyone was then forced to stand and ended up being crammed. Especially those placed in the top ranks, since it was out of the question for anyone to sit in front of the queen... Capricious and authoritative, she also made a point to enforce respect for traditions. When she was arriving, the game had to stop and all the spectators had to stand up to greet her. Same for the players, who had to bow and wait patiently for her to be seated comfortably. Then the game could resume. In 1919, the French Andrew Gobert was playing a doubles match on Wimbledon Central when the Queen arrived. After two minutes of interruption, the match resumed and Gobert lost his composure. He then told his partner: « How do you want me to play with a queen in my back! »
7/ Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – emir of Qatar
Heir of the Al-Thani family who has been reigning over Qatar for 150 years, Prince Tamim is one of the most powerful men on the planet. But he’s also a sports enthusiast: President of the National Olympic Committee since 2000, member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 2002, he was during his youth a pretty good tennis player himself. A guy who has long benefited from the great lessons of his friend and compatriot Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, a former professional tennis player and president of Paris Saint-Germain football club, of which Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani is the proud owner. Urban legend has it that the negotiations for the French club takeover in 2011 took place in Roland Garros. Class.
8/ Gustav V – King of Sweden
The one and only king of tennis, this is him. Gustav V, king of Sweden, who ruled over his country between 1907 and 1950. Excellent player, sturdy and well built, he won under the pseudonym "Mr G" more than 200 international tournaments alongside great champions such as Suzanne Lenglen or Gottfried von Cramm. Creator of the first Swedish tennis club, he notably intervened with the Nazi authorities during World War II to obtain the grace of imprisoned tennis champions. In October 1950, a natural philosopher, Gustav started his will with the words: “If I die...” And eventually he did die. After his death, he joined the pantheon of tennis that is Newport Hall of Fame. He’s so far the only Royal to have received this honour. But they'll always be royals…
9/ Rainier III – prince of Monaco
As almost all sports events in the Principality, the Monte Carlo tournament owes its popularity and professionalism to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Great patron of sports in Monaco during his time on the throne from 1949 to 2005, the competition owes him a lot such as: the arrival of prestigious sponsors, the "Masters" stamp issued by the ATP or the embellishment of the Country Club, established in 1927 - like Roland Garros - in the shape of a natural amphitheatre leaning against a steep ledge, and considered one of the finest in the world. Considering sport as a tool for education, Prince Rainier himself owned a racquet. Good tennis player, but sore sport. During a doubles match he was playing with some friends, he deliberately hit his wife and opponent of the day, Grace Kelly, then positioned at the volley, by a ball in the face. Prince Rainier justified his gesture of a laconic: « Well, I just wanted to win. »
10/ Grace Kelly – princess of Monaco
Actress, Princess of Monaco, muse of Alfred Hitchcock and victim of a tragic car accident, the life of Grace Kelly is a novel. With some erotic chapters. In his posthumous book The Wimbledon final that never was... And other tennis tales from a Bygone era, the former American tennis champion of the 1930s, Sidney Wood, said that he once had a secret affair "that lasted several weeks" with the actress. Only a few months before she gave up her career at Hollywood for marriage and a royal destiny in 1956. Sidney Wood wrote: « it's very difficult to be in love with a girl who just cannot help but play a role. One day, Grace decided to play a soundtrack of multiple animal screams - even whales! She wanted us to listen to it while we were sleeping all night, naked, on the carpet. Like beasts. »