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Reader question: Who was Roland Garros and what is his connection to French tennis?

You might know it as the French Open, but in France it is simply 'le Roland Garros' tennis tournament - but who was Roland Garros?

Reader question: Who was Roland Garros and what is his connection to French tennis?
Roland Garros, who gave his name to the famous Paris tennis complex. Photo: AFP

Question: I’ve noticed that the French always refer to the French Open tennis tournament as simply ‘Roland Garros’, after the name of the venue in Paris. But who was Roland?

The tennis tournament is named after the venue it is played at – Stade Roland Garros at Porte d’Auteuil in the west of Paris, close to Bois de Boulogne.

But Garros himself is best known as an aviator, not a tennis player.

Hear the team from The Local talk about Garros – and France’s sporting calendar this summer – in the latest episode of the Talking France podcast. Download here or listen on the link below

In fact, he doesn’t seem to have had much interest in tennis – during his life he played football, was a keen cyclist and played rugby for Stade Français (which still exists and is now a professional rugby club in Paris) but there’s no record that he played tennis regularly or even enjoyed watching it.

He’s best known as a pilot, one of the small group of daredevils who took up the new sport of aviation.

In 1913, at the age of 25 he became the first person to fly across the Mediterranean, which made him very famous in Paris. When World War I broke out he joined up as a pilot and took part in many missions before being shot down and killed in 1918.

Roland Garros (4th from right, in civilian clothes) pictured in Tunisia after his record-breaking 1913 flight. Photo by STAFF / AFP

Fast-forward 10 years to 1928 and the sports venue that now bears his name was nearing completion.

The Stade français multi sports club, which owned it, was run by a man named Emile Lesueur who had been a close friend of Garros, and it was him who pushed to have the stadium named after Roland Garros.

Often in history ‘close friends’ is used as a euphemism for lover, but there is no other suggestion that either man was gay, so it seems that they were just friends, and Lesueur wanted to honour the man whose life had been snuffed out by war.

By 1928 Garros still had some name recognition in France as a famous pilot and war hero, so it wouldn’t have been a totally left-field choice for the new building, albeit with no tennis connection. 

As the official Stade Roland Garros site puts it: “Yes, Roland Garros had tenuous links with tennis. But few stadiums in the world bear the name of a man who has shown so much willpower, intelligence and courage. Cardinal values for those who aim for the supreme title at the Porte d’Auteuil venue.”

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PARIS

Eiffel Tower to reopen Sunday as strike ends

France's Eiffel Tower that had been closed for five days by a strike will reopen Sunday after the monument's management announced a deal had been struck with unions.

Eiffel Tower to reopen Sunday as strike ends

The stoppage since Monday at one of the world’s best-known tourist sites was the second within two months in protest at what unions say was insufficient investment.

The tower’s operator SETE said it had reached agreement with the unions on Saturday “under which the parties will regularly monitor the company’s business model, investment in works and revenue through a body that will meet every six months”.

With an aim to balance its books by 2025, both sides also agreed to see an investment of some 380 million euros up to 2031 toward works and maintenance of the tower, the statement said.

SETE extended apologies to visitors caught in the strike action, which resulted in the loss of some 100,000 admissions.

The Eiffel Tower booked a shortfall of around 120 million euros ($130 million) during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

SETE has since received a recapitalisation of 60 million euros, which unions say is insufficient given that major maintenance work is needed, including a fresh paint job.

Visitor numbers dropped sharply during Covid due to closures and travel restrictions, but recovered to 5.9 million in 2022 and 6.3 million last year.

The masterpiece by architect Gustave Eiffel has been repainted 19 times since it was built for the 1889 World Fair.

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