What do you mean there's only one "l" at Roland Garros? And he wasn’t a tennis champion either? If urban legends around the "French Open" are sometimes more beautiful than the reality, since the tournament is starting in less than two weeks, it was an opportunity here to restore some truths...
1/ Roland Garros was a tennis champion
No. Roland Garros, a native of La Reunion Island, was an aviator. And not any aviator, since in 1913, five years before his death, he crossed the Mediterranean aboard a monoplane, a then unprecedented performance. On the sports side, Roland Garros only ran to the net as an amateur. Besides his favourite hobby was actually rugby, that he practiced at the Stade Francais, a club owned by his former college buddy Emile Lesieur. So why is the Parisian tournament named after him? The answer dates back to 1928, during the construction of a dedicated tennis stadium in the west of Paris, in which Emile Lesieur was involved, and wanted to take this opportunity to pay tribute to his friend who died in the meantime: "I won't spend a penny if we don’t give the name of my friend Garros to this stadium."
2/ Rolland Garros is written with two « l »
The mistake is made thousands of times each year. Yes, there is only one "l" in Roland! Supreme Trivia: In 1981, Eduardo Arroyo, an artist asked to design the official poster, had to do a touch up after putting an extra l on his first draft. The double consonant could even be seen on a bus stop adjacent to the stadium in mid-90s.
3/ The tournament celebrated its centenary in 1991
Paintings, pictures, songs, badges and other products ... And we don't forget the paratroopers and the Patrouille de France, the day of the final. In 1991, the organizers spared no expense for the 100th birthday! But the tournament was then a true-false centenary. The year 1891 was in fact the first inter-club championship, ancestor of the event, whose true hundredth anniversary could be celebrated in 2025 (if we stick to the year when foreigners were allowed to participate) or in 2028 (if we stick to the creation of the Roland Garros stadium).
4/ Suzanne Lenglen has played at Roland Garros
The Central court is named after Philippe Chatrier, former president of the French and International Tennis Federation, who has worked all his life to ensure that the French Open became a major event of tennis and sports in general. The second biggest court of the stadium is named after Suzanne Lenglen, absolute champion of the interwar period, and now one of the most prestigious names in French sports. If Susan has won the French Open, the event was not yet held at Roland Garros, her last appearance dating back two years before the construction of the stadium, where she therefore never played.
5/ Roland Garros has always been held late May/early June
If the tournament is inextricably linked to May, it already went for a little summer getaway, at the end of the war. In 1946, the dates of Wimbledon and Roland Garros were indeed curiously swapped, with a final in Paris played on the 27th of July. The tournament didn't stay in July very long: indeed, the heat wave of the summer 1947 (the hottest summer of the century in France) forced the organizers to quickly backtrack.
6/ Chang played his service underarm on the match ball
All wrong. The audacity of Michael Chang in 1989 against Lendl caused such an intense emotion that fans are likely to remember it as a final. This authentic legendary match has yet taken place in the round of 16, and it was in the middle of fifth set that the young American surprised the World Number One by serving like an amateur... One player also claimed that this service underarm was the first ever seen on the Central. But Horst Skoff also tried it in 1987 against Miloslav Mecir, and until the 1950s, it was not uncommon to see women serving only "from below". Famous example: Maud Galtier, doubles finalist in 1954.
7/ McEnroe led two sets to none with a break in advance in the third set against Lendl in 1984
That is the version repeatedly told in books and tales recounting one of the most improbable twists ever seen in a major final. But the masterpiece of the 80s did not exactly happened like this. After taking the first two sets 6/3 6/2, John McEnroe lost the third set 6/4 without ever having had a break in advance. It was in the fourth set that the American attacker managed to widen the gap by breaking away 4-2.
8/ The French always lose at Roland Garros
A persistent rumour. French players would live in fear as soon as they go near the chestnut trees of the Porte d'Auteuil. For all we know, there has been no crown whatsoever in the showpiece event since Yannick Noah in 1983. But with 12 titles in singles (five for the women and seven for the men), France is still at a place of choice in the ranking of nations with the most titles at the French Open. Before the 2015 edition, only four countries have done better: the United States, Australia, Spain and Germany.
9/ Nadal is the best player in the tournament’s history
With his unprecedented record of 9 victories (on-going series...), the Spanish player is of course number one. But even with its ratio of 98.5% of victories, Nadal is not top of the class. Six players, three women (Althea Gibson, Maureen Connolly and Helen Wills) and three men (Don McNeill, Donald Budge and Frank Parker) remain undefeated in singles, achieving the feat of winning at each of their participation. Three of them, Gibson, Parker and McNeill also have never tasted defeat in doubles!
10/ The Roland Garros stadium has always been used for tennis
It remained relatively anecdotal, but other activities than tennis had right of citizenship at the Musketeers’. Starting with the king of sports, track-and-field, since a track (which would disappear in the early 70s) was already at the ground where the stadium was built. During the war, the Central hosted a final of the French basketball Championship and the theatre group of Jean-Louis Barrault, which played a Greek tragedy. In the early hours of peace, a boxing match of Marcel Cerdan also filled the Central. The noble art would make a second appearance in 1973 for a clash Bouttier/Monzon, produced by the movie star Alain Delon...