Tennis in Paris is not just Roland Garros. The rackets in the Luxembourg Garden

Tennis in Paris is not just Roland Garros.  The rackets in the Luxembourg Garden


When kids, students, gentlemen and ladies gathered along the tree-lined avenues of the Parisian public garden to play

Paris. It was English tourists, starting in 1878, who introduced in France the sport that Walter Clopton Wingfield, inventor and soldier of noble origins born in Wales in 1833, had renamed "lawn tennis". Some Parisian aristocrats of the time turned up their noses at the British invention, which for them was nothing more than a deformation of the very French Jeu deu Paume. But little changed. Lawn tennis quickly made its way into the hearts of the French, courts sprang up in every corner of the country, from Dinard to Cannes, from Le Havre to Paris. And where there were no fields, we improvised: as happened at the end of the twentieth century in Luxembourg Gardenthe green lung of the capital, inaugurated by Maria de' Medici in 1612. In fact, kids, students, gentlemen and ladies gathered along the tree-lined avenues of the Parisian public garden to practice tennis, bringing with them not only rackets and balls, but even the nets, thus compensating for the absence of fields.

To appease the complaints of the peaceful Luxembourg flâneurs, annoyed by the new sporting phenomenon that arrived from across the Channel, the Quaestors of the Senate (located inside the garden) reserved the allée Fleurus, located on the west side, for practitioners. But as the Senate website reports, the presence of those improvised players along the avenues wasn't always easy to manage. And it caused several incidents: "Several people were injured by some balls, some young workers of a factory located near the garden scold those who go outside the limits of the field, and quarrels break out between players which end with cut goals". The practitioners themselves were not satisfied with the confined space that was allotted to them. And in 1927 they decided to unite and write a petition to the attention of the Senate quaestors: "The part of the avenue that remains to us (it had been further reduced after the First World War, ed) is to be considered impracticable". Then, in 1938, the turning point came, thanks to Jean Borotra, one of the four musketeers of French tennis (the others were René Lacoste, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon).

Six times winner of the Davis Cup, from 1927 to 1932, Borotra, born in Biarritz and nicknamed the "Basque jumping" (translation by Gianni Clerici), received a prize for his career of 30,000 francs: a sum which he decided to donate entirely to the Fédération française de lawn tennis to build courts in Parisian parks and gardens, to allow the popular classes to practice the game of tennis. Solicited, the Senate quaestors granted a free concession to the federation to build six lands on two areas of the Luxembourg garden: the inauguration took place on June 11, 1939, in the presence of the then president of the Senate Jules Jeanneney, the Minister of Education, Jean Zay, and by Jean Borotra himself.

It was a great gesture of philanthropy that began the story of the tennis courts of the Luxembourg garden, the most fascinating in Paris, still in use today and at prices accessible to all, just as Borotra wanted. In 2017, the president of the Senate, the Gaullist Gérard Larcher even led a court battle to keep this little tennis paradise under "his" control of him (through the French Tennis Federation). To sculpt the fields of the Luxembourg garden into myth is Jean-Luc Godard in the opening sequence of "Pierrot le fou": the grace of an exchange between two Parisians in white miniskirts, white gestures in a sunny Paris, before the stormy escape towards the south of Pierrot, embodied by Jean-Paul Belmondo.



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