Forgotten Heroes of Tennis: Les Quatre Mousquetaires

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Forgotten Heroes of Tennis: Les Quatre Mousquetaires

Les Quatre Mousquetaires.

The Four Musketeers. No, that does not refer to the classic Alexandre Dumas film from the 1920s. Instead, it refers to the four French tennis players who utterly dominated tennis during the 1920s and '30s.

Jean Borotra. Jacques Brugnon. Henri Cochet. And Rene Lacoste

As a group, their resume is positively stunning. Six consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1924 through 1929. Ten French Open titles in eleven years, spanning between 1922 and 1932. 

They also lead France to six straight Davis Cup championships in a time where the Davis Cup was regarded as highly as the FIFA World Cup or the NFL's Super Bowl!

The Tournoi de Roland Garros's trophy was even named after the quartet in 1927. 

Le Coupe des Mousquetaires.

But who were the men who made up this incredible group?

First, let's start with Borotra.

 

Jean Borotra was born on Aug. 13, 1898 in Domaine du Pouy and picked up tennis at a very young age. 

Standing at 6'1", Borotra played his first court championship of France in 1921. His style of play attracted attention almost immediately, as he dashed around the court in his blue beret. His energy seemed boundless and his acceleration was matched by no one. 

Although his service was not overly powerful, it was accurate and effective. His unique volleys and aggressive thrusts captivated the crowd. It eventually earned him the nickname "The Bounding Basque from Biarritz".

He finally broke through and won his first titles in 1924, capturing both Wimbledon and the French championship. He defeated countryman Rene Lacoste in five sets to claim the Wimbledon title, then proceeded to defeat Lacoste again for the French.

He would go on to win five career Slams in his career—twice at Wimbledon and the French Open, and once at the US Open. He won a total of 19 Slam titles between singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

If he hadn't already been through enough, 1940 brought a new twist to the Frenchman's life. He was a leader of Vichy France during the Second World War, and was arrested by the Gestapo in November of 1942. 

After surviving a concentration camp, Borotra was released in 1945.

He founded the Honour of the CIFP, the International Committee for Fair Play. The Jean Borotra award is now given to sportsmen and women who exemplify qualities of fair play.

Next was Jacques Brugnon, primarily known as a doubles-specialist. He was born on May 11, 1895 in Paris. Brugnon was the oldest of the four musketeers. Standing at 5'6", he was the definition of a doubles master.

Nicknamed "Toto", Brugnon was not a poor singles player by any means. He was ranked as high as ninth in the world in 1926. During that same year, he was a point away from meeting Borotra in the Wimbledon final, but American Bob Kinsey managed to overcome him 9-7 in the final set. 

"Jacques [Brugnon] is a player of rare stroke variety and touch" -Wallis Myers. 

Now to his true forte. Brugnon won a dozen career Slams in doubles - four at Wimbledon, five at the French Open, one at the Australian Open and two more in mixed doubles. Five of those came playing with Henri Cochet and five more with Borotra. He excelled best when playing the left court as a right-handed player.

He is fourth place all-time for career victories at Wimbledon with 129.  

He was also a force on the French Davis Cup team for 11 years, from 1921-32.

After his retirement from tennis, he was a teaching professional in Southern California.

 

Next and possibly the best of the four was Henri Cochet.

Born on December 14, 1901 in Villeurbanne. He was exposed to tennis at a very young age, as his father worked at a tennis club in Lyon. 

Henri worked as a ball boy, and practiced any time he could with friends when nobody was using the courts. He went to Paris in 1921 (the same year Jean Borotra arrived) and entered in the French championship.

Cochet would not have success until 1926, when he won his first French title. He holds a total of eight Slam titles, but he also carries a very bizarre and possibly unwanted honor. 

He is the only male player in history to fail at defending every single one of his Slam titles.

Cochet was not a large man by any means. Standing at 5'7", he was an extremely fluid player in all aspects of the game. His trademark of making shots when it was thought no longer possible made it look like he was wielding a magic wand instead of a tennis racquet. 

He was blessed with a terrific sense of timing. But the Ballboy of Lyon's greatest moment did not come in Paris. Instead, it was at the All-England Club.

In 1927, Cochet pulled off a magical feat that even seemed impossible for him. Down two sets to love in the quarterfinal round, he scrambled back to beat American Frank Hunter. He found himself in a similar position in the semifinal, down two sets to none to probably the worst player to need a comeback against. 

Bill Tilden carried a commanding lead, going up 5-1 in the third set. Cochet then rifled off 17 unanswered points to get back into the match, eventually winning it in a five-set thriller. 

He wasn't done yet. In a ridiculous finale to the tournament, he fought off six match points for countryman Borotra and take the championship in five.

His magic lead to a No. 1 ranking for three consecutive years, from 1928 to 1930.

 

Last of the bunch, but of course certainly not least, was Rene Lacoste.

Lacoste was born on July 2, 1904 in Paris, and was possibly the most unlikely athlete. 

He did not even pick up a tennis racquet until he was 15 years old, on a business trip with his father to England. Lacoste wanted to then devote himself to playing tennis, but his father told him that if he could not become a champion within five years, he should drop it and pursue a more realistic goal.

Lacoste was not a physically gifted person by any means. He gained his skill through grueling work and persistence; a completely self-made champion.

An obsessive statistician, Lacoste kept notes on everything. He became a master baseline defender, committing a mind-blowing tiny number of errors.

Nicknamed the "Crocodile", Lacoste was the fourth and final musketeer. He would win a total of seven Slams in his career, but never the Australian Open.

Despite having an incredibly successful tennis career, his true success and mark on the game didn't come on the court. In 1933, he founded the company La Societe Chemise Lacoste, which produced tennis apparel. Any Lacoste product featured an alligator. 

In 1963, he also created the first steel tennis racquet, which would later be incorporated by the Wilson Sporting Goods Co.

All four of the musketeers were inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

Information is credited to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, RI.

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