50-year rewind: Andres Gimeno's eternal RG milestone

 - Chris Oddo

In 1972 the Spaniard made history in Paris, and created a lasting legacy

Andres Gimeno, Roland Garros 1958© Gil de Kermadec / FFT

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have mounted an assault on tennis’ record books over the last two decades, but there is one milestone that they have not managed to touch. 

That one belongs to Andres Gimeno, a Roland-Garros legend and the tournament’s oldest men’s singles champion since he raised the Coupe des Mousquetaires in 1972. 

Gimeno, who passed away at the age of 82 in 2019, is also the oldest player to win his maiden men’s singles Grand Slam title.

The Spaniard tallied his career-defining triumph in Paris at the age of 34 years and 10 months, when he defeated France’s Patrick Proisy, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1. 

This year, Nadal is still in the running to shatter Gimeno's long-standing record.

If he succeeds, it will not alter the significance of Gimeno’s title, or his impact as a pioneer of Spanish tennis. 

“I was able to meet him for a lot of years,” Nadal told reporters this week in Paris.

“I mean, he was one of the most important players in our history. Yeah, sad that he is not able to be here. In some way his legacy and his memory are going to stay with us, without a doubt.”

Class, warmth and passion

Roland-Garros comes to life every spring, when the gorgeous red clay provides the canvas for tennis masterpieces.

It also helps us rekindle memories from the tournament’s storied past, melding them into a mélange that connects the generations. 

“I can feel him around,” one of Gimeno’s three sons, Andres, told rolandgarros.com last week.

“We went together a couple of years when he was working for Spanish television. I remember those years, it felt like home there.” 

Gimeno spent his prime years, from 1960 to 1968, toiling as a professional, back in the day when pros were not allowed to compete at the Slams.

Like his rival Rod Laver, who defeated him in the 1969 Australian Open final, Gimeno would likely have lifted more Grand Slam trophies if he didn’t miss nearly a decade’s worth. 

Nevertheless, Gimeno's legendary legacy landed him in the International Hall of Fame in 2009, a well-deserved accolade for a man who gave his life to tennis, and was a beloved figure among his peers and future generations. 

Andres Gimeno, Roland Garros 1972Supplied by Andres Gimeno Jr.

One of those was 1990 Roland-Garros champion Andres Gomez of Ecuador. The former world No.4 was tight with the affable Gimeno and always looked forward to palling around with him when he returned to Paris. 

Gimeno affectionately called Gomez 'tocayo' referring to their namesake. 

“He always had nice words for everyone,” Gomez said.

“And you know, those are the kinds of people you're looking for. Andres was one of them. Whenever I saw him he would come over and say 'Hey tocayo, how you doing?'” 

Gimeno was known for his class, his warmth and his passion for the sport. He was revered by friends and fans alike. 

“He was a gentleman on court and had an enormous talent," said the late Manolo Santana, two-time Roland-Garros champion and close friend of Gimeno, in 2019.

"He was a great friend and a champion in life. Andres, friend of friends, you’ll be in my life until my last breath. Rest in peace."

A fortnight to remember

Gimeno came to Paris in 1972 without expectations. But not without fight. 

His son Andres remembers the mood well. Just nine years old at the time, he was due to receive his communion in church on the Sunday of the final, and his father was confident that he’d be there in person. 

“My mother talked to my father and said ‘Oh you are going to Paris but Andres is going to have communion in the second weekend,” Andres said.

“My father said ‘Don’t worry I’ll be back by that time, I’m sure I’m not going to miss it’.

“He went not with the expectations to win the tournament, he just went to enjoy.”

Andres made his first communion and later watched the final on television at a friend’s house.

Gimeno’s game had caught fire, and he was still in Paris, about to make history. The family's story is richer for it all. 

“With time it becomes more and more important,” Andres Jr. says.

“It was confusing for me because I remember coming back to Spain and everybody wanted to know him. For me, I didn’t take in the magnitude. I was too little, but then over the years I came to appreciate it, and I understood how important it was for him.” 

Gimeno was seeded sixth, and cruised through his first two matches easily before playing 13 sets across his next three rounds.

He defeated American Clark Graebner, from two sets to one down in the round of 16; after defeating reigning US Open champion Stan Smith in four sets in the quarter-finals, he needed five again to survive his semi-final against Alex Metreveli. 

In the final, Gimeno lost the first set to Proisy, but won the next four to clinch his own special slice of Roland-Garros history. 

For 50 years, Andres Gimeno’s record has stood tall at Roland-Garros.

Even if it falls this year, his legend will forever remain a part of the fabric of the tournament, passed on from generation to generation, perpetually.