History

The history of the World Championships on « terre battue »

The idea of organising the first World Clay Court Championships is attributed to the American patron, Mr. Duane Williams, who was a tennis enthusiast and keen traveller. He observed that the only internationally recognised tournament was at Wimbledon, England.
However this tournament on grass benefited the players accustomed to this kind of surface such as the English and a few Americans from the U.S. East Coast. In continental Europe, the climate did not allow for the maintenance of this kind of surface, so clay became the most appropriate option.
In 1911, he subsequently offered to sponsor the organisation of a world championship on clay and he submitted his idea to the UFSPA (The French Union of Societies of Athletic Sports) which in France at the time governed sports other than tennis.
The idea was welcomed with enthusiasm and the “French Stadium” offered its splendid facilities in the park at Saint-Cloud. Thus the inaugural tournament of these prestigious championships was organised in the first week of June 1912.
The trial was a considerable success for the players and for the Parisian Public and more than 5000 spectators attended the first “French Open”. It is sad to note that meanwhile, the ill-fated Duane Williams lost his life in the “Titanic” disaster of April 1912 and was thus unable to be a part of the success of the sporting event for which he had been responsible.
His son R.N. Williams who was a “Titanic” shipwreck survivor, was an excellent tennis player. He was US champion in 1914 and 1916 and a singles representative in the defeated American Davis Cup team of 1914.
After the World War 1, he became Vincent Richard’s doubles partner. The first world champion was the number one German, Froitzheim. His doubles partner was the one and only Anthony Wilding who was the number one world and Wimbledon champion from 1910 to 1913. Anthony Wilding succeeded Froitzheim in 1913, the year in which he achieved a grand slam and became world champion on grass and on clay. What more can one ask?
In 1914, Wilding retained his tile by winning all his matches in three straight sets. However, one has to realise that contrary to what continued to happen at Wimbledon during this era, the world championship was not played under the of Challenge Round principle, as the title-holder from the previous year played all progressive rounds, like everyone else!
In June 1914, Suzanne Lenglen at the age of only fourteen and a half became the world champion on clay by defeating english woman Miss Golding. It’s a revelation of an exceptional champion, already playing modern and spectacular tennis well ahead of her times. Suzanne Lenglen retained her world clay court championship title until 1923, the year of the last phase of this great tennis phenomenon.
This championship, which was as prestigious as Wimbledon, is hardly mentioned by the tennis historians and even less by those of the grand slam. It is a shame because this performance was at least equal to what Roland Garros has become today.
 
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