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“Victory belongs to the most persistent.” Who named Roland Garros after a fighter pilot?

Date: June 17, 2024 Time: 06:57:39

At Roland Garros there is a long tradition: every year, before the men’s final, an air show performed by a squadron of the French Air Force takes place on the center court. This exciting event is a tribute to the great aviator Adrien Georges Eugene Roland Garros, after whom the Paris tennis complex is named. Garros’ favorite expression, “Victory belongs to the most persistent,” is engraved in the main stadium of the French Major and has inspired players to great feats for almost 100 years.

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When I was 20, I attended an air show and fell in love with airplanes.

It is surprising that the tennis stadium is named after an aviator who only held a racket a couple of times in his life, when he was still a student. However, Roland is considered such a heroic and sacred figure in French history that his grateful countrymen not only named the arena after him. The Peugeot automobile company launched a convertible named after him and the French government introduced a €10 coin with the driver’s image and a postage stamp. Since 2003, a museum dedicated to Garros has been operating on the territory of the tennis complex.

The propeller of Garros’ plane with the phrase “Victory belongs to the most persistent” engraved on it.

Photo: rolandgarros.com

Roland was born on October 6, 1888 on the small island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean; His father worked as a lawyer and the family moved frequently. Upon returning to France from Vietnam, where Garros lived for a year and a half, an 11-year-old boy contracted pneumonia: he had to leave gloomy Paris and settle on the Côte d’Azur, in Nice. But Roland recovered not only thanks to the lung-friendly climate, but also to his passion for cycling. The boy was in constant motion and loved speed; He also played football and rugby very well.

Garros was distinguished by high intelligence, graduated with honors from school, studied for two years at a business academy and founded his own company, a car dealership not far from the Arc de Triomphe. The young man also became a successful businessman and investor, purchasing several buildings in Paris. However, in August 1909, his life changed drastically. A friend invited him to attend an air show in Champagne; The spectacle so captivated Garros, who was open to new achievements and challenges, that he fell head over heels in love with the relatively new miracle of technology.

Since Garros never did anything halfway, he immediately bought a plane and learned to fly long before he got his pilot’s license. The guy was such a fan of airplanes that he often forgot about safety and almost died. One day he rushed onto the runway without a proper signal, without waiting for another car to land, so he barely had time to jump out of the plane; a moment later he was torn to pieces. I had to buy a new glider.

Roland and his first airplane “Demoiselle”

Photo: Actual Press Agency/Getty Images

Roland’s skill in the air grew rapidly, he broke altitude records (in 1912 he ascended to 5600 m) and organized unique air shows. The Frenchman amazed the audience with his courage and ingenuity, becoming a true world star, whose performances brought together hundreds of thousands of people. He performed not only in Europe, but also in South America, after which he was inspired by a new idea: to make a non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea. A distance of 730 km in those days seemed something like flying to the moon in a dirigible, but the Frenchman believed in himself and his plane.

Non-stop flight across the Mediterranean, three years of German captivity

On September 23, 1913, Garros flew from Saint-Raphael (Côte d’Azur) to Bizerte (Tunisia) in his Morane-Saulnier monoplane. His epic journey lasted 7 hours and 47 minutes, and Roland was several times on the verge of life and death: when he landed, there were only five liters of fuel left in the tank. Also, during the flight, the hero’s engine failed several times, but he managed to fix the problem. After this feat, the pilot’s close friend, the poet and film director Jean Cocteau, dedicated the poem “Cape of Good Hope” to him.

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With the outbreak of World War I, Roland enlisted in the army. At that time, fighter aircraft did not exist: shooting down an enemy aircraft was possible only from the cockpit with the help of a revolver. Garros proved to be an excellent inventor. The pilot, with the help of aircraft designer Raymond Saulnier, discovered how to install a machine gun on a plane that fired between the propeller blades thanks to a firing switch. The ace also designed special triangular metal shields for the rear of the blades to prevent bullets from bouncing back into the fuselage.

At the beginning of April 1915, Second Lieutenant Garros shot down three enemy planes, despite the fact that the French Air Force itself only had five fighters. However, successful missions could not continue forever, and something similar to the script of the film “Escadrille Lafayette” happened to Roland, dedicated to the French and American pilots who fought against the Germans during the First World War. In one of the scenes, the pilot’s machine gun jammed and Garros, unable to fight, was shot down and landed on Belgian territory.

Roland Garros after a successful flight

Photo: M. Rol/Getty Images

Roland was concerned that his developments would not fall into enemy hands and tried to burn the liner. He started a fire, but the enemies arrived too quickly at the landing site and put out the flames. As a result, the design fell into the hands of aircraft designer Anton Fokker, who carefully studied and improved them. He developed firing synchronizers and their subsequent successful use gave rise to a special term: “Fokker scourge”. Thanks to this, German aviation had no equal until the end of the First World War.

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In captivity, Garros was in terrible conditions, which seriously damaged his health: due to the lack of the ability to fly and severe stress, his eyesight began to deteriorate. Even so, Roland did not lose hope and escaped three years later. Together with another pilot, Anselm Marshall, he managed to obtain a German officer’s uniform and, changing clothes to go to the bathroom, left the POW camp. The return journey lasted more than a month, during which the fugitives had to spend the night outdoors and once even sleep in a cemetery crypt.

Posthumously awarded the Legion of Honor, the stadium was named after a friend of Garros

The war was coming to an end and Garros might well have enjoyed national hero status, but the clouds were calling. In mid-May 1918, the pilot returned to service. To do this, he had to take piloting courses: in the last three years, aviation has made significant advances in both technology and air combat tactics. The command did not want to let Roland go to the front, offering to become an instructor, tester or staff officer, but the pilot categorically refused and got an appointment in his former SPA-26 squadron.

Roland in military uniform

Photo: Corbis/Getty Images

He admitted to having developed myopia only in front of those closest to him; They even made him special glasses so he could continue flying. Garros flew three successful missions and shot down five aircraft, but the October 5, 1918 attack on the Ardennes proved fatal. The famous ace died a month before the end of the war and one day before his 30th birthday: the Frenchman was shot down by the German pilot Hermann Habich. After Roland’s death, he received the Legion of Honor.

Probably few people would remember Garros today if it were not for his friend Emile Lesieur, with whom he studied at the business academy. The man became a wealthy promoter and in 1927 he decided to finance the construction of the national tennis stadium in Paris. But with one condition: the stadium will be named after Garros. No one raised any objections, and years later the pilot’s famous phrase “Victory belongs to the most persistent” acquired a high meaning for everyone who approaches the Parisian courts.

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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.
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