As we start a second week of tennis battles on the French clay, some of you may wonder who was the man who gave his name to the French open.

Roland Garros[1] was not a tennis player, but a renowned aviator. Having taught himself how to fly, he became famous after making the first non‑stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea, between France and Tunisia in September 1913. This, he achieved just four years after first taking flight.


He then joined the French army as a reconnaissance pilot during the first world war. One of many engineering challenges faced by the army at the time, was how to fit a machine gun at the front of the aircraft while preventing bullets hitting the propeller. Earlier attempts based on a synchroniser timing the position of the propeller with the firing rate, had proven unsuccessful, yet Garros developed protective wedges fitted to an engine with narrower blades that lead to a reliable front firing system.

He used his invention successfully in battles shouting down several German planes, but in April 1915 he was hit over Belgium and made prisoner. His plane fell into the hands of the enemy who then copied his on‑board machine gun system. After three years Roland eventually managed to escape and returned to France in 1918. He went back to battle and was killed later that year in a final duel over the Ardennes.


His legacy continued 10 years after his brave defeat. Long time friend and former classmate, Emile Lesueur, made the change in his honour, naming the stadium after him. Lesueur, who was was president of the Stade Français, had received support during his campaign for Presidency before Garros’s death.

While Roland had little connection with the tennis world, his pioneering and fighting spirit have inspired many of the players we see on court today.




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