Over a century ago...
The first ever French Championships were held back in 1891. They were originally reserved for members of French clubs and held on the courts of the Stade Français club in Paris. The women's singles were added six years later, but it was not until 1925 that the French Tennis Federation decided to open the event to the best foreign players. Thus, the French Internationals were born, and staged alternately at Stade Français and the Racing Club de France until the Roland-Garros stadium was built in 1928.
The post-war period: a golden era beckons
Though the Musketeers’ defeat in 1933 signalled the end of their era, the Roland-Garros stadium continued to enjoy centre stage, hosting the French Internationals every year. Though it had to be cancelled from 1940 to 1945 due to the Second World War, Roland-Garros went from strength to strength in the post-war period, reflecting the growth of tennis. A new era began in 1968 with the French Championships becoming the first "open" Grand Slam tournament, bringing together amateurs and professionals who had previously played separately.
Borg and Evert take up residence at Roland
The late 1970s and early 1980s were a magical era for tennis in general and Roland-Garros in particular. Björn Borg’s six titles added considerably to the lustre of the tournament, while Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander and Gustavo Kuerten all contributed to the legendary reputation of the French Open Championships.
The women's singles has had its great champions too. Chris Evert had the upper hand in a series of magnificent battles with Martina Navratilova over the years, Steffi Graf captured the hearts of the French fans in the 12 years between her first and sixth (and last) title in 1999, while Monica Seles was unstoppable in 1990, 1991 and 1992. All of these players genuinely captured the hearts of the French crowd.
Nadal the undisputed king
Today, the tournament is fully deserving of its reputation as the world's premier clay court event. It is furiously competitive each year, to such an extent that French successes have been few and far between. Since the war, only Nelly Landry (1948), Françoise Dürr (1967) and Mary Pierce (2000) among the women, together with Marcel Bernard (1946) and Yannick Noah (1983) in the men's event, have lifted the trophy. Will a Frenchman be able to re-write the history books? To win at Roland Garros, it almost seems to be a prerequisite for a player to speak Spanish. Most of the current clay court specialists are from Spain, including of course the current holder, Majorcan left-hander Rafael Nadal, who has won no fewer than nine times in ten appearances on the Paris clay!
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