Simonne Mathieu

The women’s doubles trophy at the French Open is named for Mathieu, Coupe Simonne-Mathieu and the new 5,000 seat Roland Garros court will be named after her.
But who was Simonne Mathieu? Alongside Suzanne Lenglen and Henri Cochet she is one of France’s greatest tennis champions. But she was much more than that.

Simonne Mathieu and Suzanne Lenglen

Married at 17, her baby laid in his pram courtside when she became French junior champion in 1926. At 20, she was a mother of two kids whom she rarely saw as she travelled the world, collecting titles in Egypt, the Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland or Belgium.

She bounced back from losing six French Open singles finals (including three consecutive against the same opponent, Hilde Sperling) to finally win her home Grand Slam event at the seventh attempt, in 1938. She defeated fellow countrywoman Nelly Landry 6-0 6-3.
She even completed a rare triple that year, sweeping Roland Garros singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles. Only Suzanne Lenglen (1925 and 1926), Maureen Connolly (1954) and Margaret Court (1964) have achieved that distinction.

Simonne Mathieu, Nelly Landry, Marlene Dietrich - Roland Garros 1938

Simonne defended her title in 1939, with a straight sets victory over Jadwiga Jedrzejowska 6-3 8-6. France would have to wait until 1967 to see another French-born winner, Françoise Dürr, win the home title. [1]

She never played in Australia and only twice at the US Championships where she reached the quarterfinals in 1938. And even though she never captured the title in London, she had tremendous success at Wimbledon, with six semifinals (1930, 1931, 1932, 1934, 1936, 1937) and four quarterfinals (1933, 1935, 1938, 1939).

Mathieu was ranked in the world top 10 eleven times and reached rank number 3 in 1932 behind the two Helens: Wills Moody and Hull Jacobs. She was French number one from 1928 until 1940.

A resolute baseliner, she played with great steadiness and determination, quite often in long drawn-out matches. She had an outstanding forehand drive.

“There was one great drawback to Simone’s game to which she was never able to overcome – or perhaps she did not think it necessary – the absence of any sort of effective volley or smash. This shortcoming did not prevent her from winning innumerable doubles championships, but it was a tremendous handicap in singles competition against players who had the tactical sense to draw her up to the net with short, low shots and then lob deeply. To win, she relied almost entirely on baseline duels, or upon drawing the opponent up, then making the passing shot or the lob, herself” – Helen Jacobs

Despite her weakness at the net, she was a fantastic doubles player: she won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles: three women’s doubles titles at Wimbledon (1933, 1934, 1937), six women’s doubles titles (1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939) and two mixed doubles titles (1937, 1938) at Roland Garros.

Simonne Mathieu and Toto Brugnon

A fighter on the court, Mathieu has also gone down in history as a fighter off the court.
She was playing a tournament in the United States when World War II broke out in 1939 and then decided to return immediately to France. Following France’s surrender in June 1940, she joined General de Gaulle in London, and offered him her services. She set up the Corps Féminin Français, a group of women volunteers serving in the Free French Forces.

She ended the war with a grade of Captain and marched down the Champs Elysées alongside de Gaulle when Paris was liberated in August 1944. She was finally reunited with her family, and with tennis.
She served as umpire for the “liberation match” between Henri Cochet and Yvon Petra at Roland Garros on September 17 1944 wearing her uniform as an officer in the French forces.

From 1949 to 1960 she was captain of the French womens team. She died in 1980, aged 72.
She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006… the year Amélie Mauresmo won two Grand Slams.

Notes:
[1]: Nelly Landry won the title in 1948, but she was Belgian-born and became a French citizen after marriage
[2]: Read more info on The War Illustrated

Pictures:
1: Simonne Mathieu, 1926
2: Simonne Mathieu and Suzanne Lenglen, 1926
3: Picture taken before the Roland Garros 1938 singles final. From left to right: Simonne Mathieu, Nelly Landry and Marlene Dietrich.
4: Mathieu playing with Mousquetaire Toto Brugnon
5: Henri Cochet, Simonne Mathieu, Yvon Pétra

Sources:
Wikipedia, International Tennis Hall of Fame, The golden days of tennis on the French Riviera by Alan Little, Roland Garros website

Françoise Durr, Roland Garros 1967

From Game, set and deadline by Rex Bellamy:

French tennis will long remember this sweltering Sunday afternoon. At 4.20 the crowded centre court of the Stade Roland Garros – its four vast banks ablaze with colour, like giant flower-beds – almost bust asunder with noise and movement. France was saluting its first women’s singles champion since Nelly Landry (French by marriage) in 1948 and its first French-born winner since Simonne Mathieu in 1939.

The new national heroine is Françoise Durr, born at Oran, Algeria, on Christmas Day, 1942. Already she had dismissed Maria Bueno (Brazil), the United States champion. Today she beat Lesley Turner (Australia), the Italian champion, by 4-6 6-3 6-4 in an arduously close match that lasted for an hour and 35 minutes.

Miss Durr‘s triumph was a smack in the eyes for the purists, a vindication of all those who claim that character is more important than talent, and a sharp rebuttal of the silly old cliché that nice guys – or nice girls – finish last.

Miss Durr’s sunglasses and her pink hair-ribbon are distinctive but not elegant. The same applies to her grip and her strokes: especially the sliced backhand that often takes her down on one knee. What binds all the pecularities together and makes her such a bonny competitor on hard courts is her ball control, the result of painstaking hard work, and the unfailingly sharp wits that command her tactics. She knows where the ball needs to go for maximum effect: and she has the control to put it there.

The crowd’s collective heart was at one with Miss Durr’s. Even while rallies were in progress, there were shrieks of joy or gasps of horror. How she had to fight! At 6-4 and 2-all Miss Turner looked well on the way to regaining a title she had won twice before. In the third set, marred by the distraction of controversial line calls, she came within two points of leading 5-2. But Miss Durr caught her, then pressed an attack on Miss Turner’s backhand. This squeezed out a last, decisive error, at which Miss Durr flung her racket so high that it might have brained her on the way down.