Mansour Bahrami

The Legends Trophy (Trophée des Légendes) founded in 1997 by Mansour Bahrami brings together twenty-four of history’s greatest champions, grouped according to age in the two men’s draws, and twelve former women’s tennis stars. The event is a great opportunity to watch some former champions play in a friendly and funny atmosphere.
The Trophée des légendes is the unmissable event of the second week at Roland Garros.

Extract from Roland Garros Magazine’s interview with Mansour Bahrami:

RGM: How did you manage to set up the Trophée des Légendes?

To be honest, I pissed off Patrice Clerc, the director of Roland Garros (1984-2000) for three or four years before he accepted to let me organize the tournament. At the start he would tell me: “But you know that your rubbish old people’s tournament won’t work…” But we were playing all around the world, on a real circuit, the “Senior tour”, which had been created by Jimmy Connors in 1994. We were just sad to be left out of a great party which Roland Garros is. So I insisted and he said: “Mansour, I can’t take it anymore, you’re getting on my nerves… Let’s do this once, and maybe you’ll stop breaking my balls!” It was in 1997, and we’re now celebrating the twentieth edition.

RGM: Did it take time for you to completely rule in Patrice Clerc’s favor?

No, not really. There was this one first year, at the start, where two Spaniards were facing in the central court – but I can’t remember who exactly – and at the same time, we were playing a Trophée des légendes match on the Court 1 where we could host 4000 spectators. But the attendance numbers just sky-rocketed. As there wasn’t any ticket office, people were standing in the stairs, it was mad. There must have been 7000 people, with people standing outside waiting for spectators to leave. Meanwhile, there were only 600 spectators on the central court.

RGM: How do you explain the tournament’s success?

It’s pretty simple: the Trophée des légendes enables parents to take their children to tennis matches, and to tell them: “You see, Nastase, the player I’m talking about all day long, well, that’s him… he may be a little slower and fatter, but it’s really him.” (1)

RGM: What’s the atmosphere like during the tournament? Is it more a bunch of veterans gathering up to have a good time, or is it a competition like any other one?

It depends. Personally, I’m always, and I have always been relaxed. What’s important to me is seeing people walking out of the court with smiles on their faces. Others, like John McEnroe, are there to win it. If he loses, he’s just as sad as if he had lost the final of Roland Garros.

RGM: In the end, isn’t the Trophée des légendes one of the last tournaments where you can watch old school tennis, which can be fun but sometimes violent, with very strong personalities, far from today’s modern, muted and codified tennis?

Sometimes, Nastase would leave a tournament with less money than he had when he arrived: the price of his fines was higher than his earnings! I also remember Rod Laver, who would jump over the net to congratulate his opponent after a beautiful point… Do you think that would happen today? No. Why? Because we played at a time when there was no money at stake. We played for fun, and at the end of the tournament, we would win a pair of shoes… So yes it’s true, in a way, the Trophée des légendes enables this “free” spirit to live on in tennis. Today, you earn 4 million dollars if you win a Grand Slam tournament. The stakes are different.

RGM: Do you have a hard time organizing the Trophée des légendes?

Yeah, especially with John McEnroe (laughs). I’ll give you an exemple. One year, he told me that he wouldn’t be able to play the opening match. Of course, he told me that the day before the match. Well, I changed the whole program for the next day, and at midnight, he called me: “Mansour, I’ve thought about it, there is no way that I can play the second match, I’m playing the first one.” Obviously, it’s his way or no way. I had to spend the whole night phoning the others, on French, Swedish, Ecuadorian numbers… you name it! Just because of John’s stubbornness. I’ve recently told him that he couldn’t do that again. But I know he will…

RGM: Are there any favorites this year?

In the “young” category, the Spaniards who have just joined, like Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero, are really good. Michaël Llodra could also surprise a few, for his first participation. In the category of players who are older than 45, Goran Ivanisevic and Sergi Bruguera are both equally impressive. But to be fair, we don’t really care about the level of the players. We invite players who are loved by the crowd. I’ve sometimes had to reject some guys who were unpopular.

(1) Nastase is not a very good example as he stopped playing the Trophée at least 5 years ago.
(2) We get his point but seriously, Borg, Connors and McEnroe among others were not playing for fun or for a pair of shoes. They were already signing big contracts. And today’s players don’t earn 4 million dollars for a Roland Garros victory.

Photo credit: Roland Garros Magazine

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Past champions seen around the grounds at Roland Garros 2014
Roland Garros 2015: Clijsters and Navratilova pair to win the Legends Trophy