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Who is Roland Garros? History behind the French Open

Roland-Garros is the venue and formal name of the French Open, but who is he?

French Open 2021
Getty Images
Published: Friday, 27th May 2022 at 2:17 pm
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The French Open is currently taking place in Paris – with the world's top tennis players in both the men's and women's tours going head to head in the biggest clay-court tournament of the year.

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The likes of Rafael Nadal – the most successful player in French Open history – and 2020 women's champion Iga Swiatek, who is currently on an unbeaten run of more than 30 matches, are amongst the biggest draws at this year's event, which has already included a fair few shocks.

You'll often hear the tournament referred to by its other name, Roland Garros, and some fans might be wondering exactly who it is named after.

Read on for everything you need to know.

Who is Roland Garros?

You might be assuming that Roland Garros is a former tennis player – or at least somebody with strong links to the sport – but while he was reportedly a fan of the game, his success came in a different field entirely.

In actual fact, Garros was an aviation pioneer who was known for performing many early feats before becoming one of the earliest fighter pilots in World War I.

He was born in Saint-Denis de la Réunion in 1888 and began experimenting with aviation at the age of just 21, after he had graduated from the HEC business school and founded his own car dealership.

His first experience with planes came when he attended an air show in the Champagne region while visiting a friend, and he was instantly enamoured – buying his own plane and obtaining his pilot's licence very soon afterwards.

Roland Garros
STAFF/AFP via Getty Images

He broke his first altitude record (reaching 3,910 meters) two years later in 1911, and took part in a series of air shows and races, with word quickly spreading around the world of his incredible skill.

As his fame grew, he decided he wanted to set himself another challenge and began plans to make a daring flight across the Mediterranean – a first at the time.

He achieved his goal in 1913, flying from Saint-Raphaël (French Riviera) to Bizerte (Tunisia) on his Morane-Saulnier monoplane in eight hours, and winning even more admirers in the process – including the revered poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau.

After signing up for armed service at the outbreak of World War 1, Garros helped develop the first single-seater fighter plane equipped with an onboard machine gun that fired through the propeller, which he then flew himself in battle.

As a sub-lieutenant, Garros managed three victories in the space of a fortnight in April 1915 but was then taken prisoner along with his plane, with the enemy subsequently using his ideas for their own aircraft.

Garros remained imprisoned for the next three years, and although he was eventually able to escape – disguised as a German officer – his return to the front proved fatal, as he was killed in action on 5th October 1918, just a day before his 30th birthday and a little more than a month before the armistice.

Read more about the French Open 2022 schedule –to watch the tournament live and on-demand, sign up for discovery+ for just £6.99 per month or £59.99 annually. Eurosport will also be showing the biggest matches live on their TV channels and digital platforms including through Amazon Prime Video.

If you’re looking for something else to watch, check out our TV Guide or visit our Sport hub.

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