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Rolex Paris Masters…History Shouldn’t Be Forgotten  

By Mark Winters

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This year, 60 ATP tournaments were scheduled. Thirty-eight offered the winner 250 points; 13 netted 500 points.

The nine Masters Series events, providing 1000 points, reigned supreme when it came to the possibility of ranking improvement.

Of those in this category, the Canadian Championship (which became the current Canadian Open in 1968 and is played alternately in Montreal and Toronto) began in 1881; the Monte-Carlo Championship was initiated in 1896; and the Cincinnati Open (first played in 1899) have been listed as the oldest.

The Canadian Open, before it received the designation was the Canadian Championships, the du Maurier Open, the Canada Masters, and the Rogers Cup. Currently it exists as the National Bank Open.

The Cincinnati Masters was the Cincinnati Open, then the Tri-State Tennis Tournament before a sprinkle of title changes including Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati took place. Adding to the muddle, the USTA owned the men’s competition from 2008 until 2022, when it sold its portion, along with the lease to the women’s tournament, to Ben Navarro’s company, Beemok Capital (he is the father of Emma Navarro, a Top 50 WTA performer)…which now owns the Western & Southern Open.

Even Monte Carlo, a name with “Stand-Alone” recognition, has been retitled…moving from the Monte Carlo International Lawn Tennis Tournament to the Monte Carlo Championships (a.k.a. Monte Carlo International Championships) to the Monte Carlo Masters.

For some reason, the history leading to the current Rolex Paris Masters 1000 is less known.

Germaine Golding, William Laurentz, Winifred Beamish (née Ramsey) and Max Decugis competed regularly at the French Covered Court Championships.

Paul Lecaron and Armand Masson created the Tennis Club de Paris (TCP) in 1895, in the city’s 16th Arrondissement, and launched the French Covered Court Championships, (also known as the French Covered Court Open Championships and as the French Indoors).

Paul Lecaron. Photo: Olympia

Both Lecaron and Masson have been referred to as “Sportsman”, meaning they were successful businessmen who played tennis. As it turned out…quite well.

In fact, Lecaron competed in the Men’s Singles and Doubles at the 1900 Summer Olympics held in Paris.

Tennis Club de Paris. Photo: Tennis Club de Paris

Lecaron and Masson financed the property rental, along with the construction of the Tennis Club de Paris’ four indoor wood parquet courts, (which were very fast), and the five outdoor clay courts.

In the club’s early years, it was where the best players congregated.  Paul Aymé, Max Decugis and André Gobert used the facility.

Ultimately, the Les Quatre Mousquetaires – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet, René Lacoste – became TCP patrons.

André Vacherot won the first Men’s Singles.

Paris native André Vacherot won the first French Covered Court Championships Men’s Singles, in 1895, on his home courts.

Thereafter a collection of players from “Somewhere else…” were the men’s titlists.

Manliffe Goodbody, an Irish tennis and football player, was the 1896 and ’97 winner.

In 1899, a man with the intriguing first name of Major…in full Major Josiah George Ritchie, who had no military affiliation, claimed Singles honors, as he did again in 1902, ’05 and ’08.

Adine Masson won six Singles titles.

Masson’s daughter, Adine, (whose name appears in some results as Nadine), dominated early French Covered Court Championships Women’s Singles play.

She won the first four tournaments beginning in 1895. Between 1898 and 1901, the Women’s Singles wasn’t contested.

Masson returned to the winner’s circle in 1905 and again in ’06…collecting six singles titles in all.

Countrywoman Germaine Regnier Golding matched Masson’s count beginning with a triumph in 1920 and securing her last trophy in 1931.

Germaine Regnier Golding equaled Adaline Masson’s six Singles titles.

Marilyn Greenwood of Great Britain dispatched Odile de Roubin of France, 6-2, 6-4 in the last Women’s Singles title match played in 1971.

The same year also saw the last of the men’s tournament, when Pierre Barthès defeated Peter Pokorny in the final, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

In 1969, the Open de Paris at Stade de Coubertin commenced. It was the first Open indoor event to be held in Paris and ran until 1982. It proved to be a predecessor to the Paris Rolex Masters.

Other than earning a title at one of the four majors, nothing could be more rewarding for a player than winning a “Home…” championship.

In the Open Era, three Frenchmen have won Men’s Singles titles: Guy Forget in 1991 (who was the Rolex Paris Masters Tournament Director from 2012 until 2021), Sebastien Grosjean in 2001 and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008.

Six French pairs have been Men’s Doubles champions during the Open Era: Pierre Barthès and François Jauffret – 1972; Patrice Dominguez and Jauffret –1974; Robert Haillet and Gilles Moretton (current President of the Fédération Française de Tennis) – 1979; Nicolas Escudé (now FFT National Technical Director) and Fabrice Santoro – 2002; Arnaud Clément and Michaël Llodra – 2006; Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut – 2019.

Gilles Moretton and Cédric Pioline at the 2022 Rolex Paris Masters.
Photo: Christophe Guibbaud/FF

The current tournament began in 1986 as the Paris Open-Bercy and is held at the Accor Arena, the architecturally dazzling facility in Bercy, a southeast section of Paris on the right bank of the Seine.

The stadium, with a seating capacity of 14,000, can be raucous, if not downright unruly…inside as well as outside…where skateboarders use the building’s sloped sidings as ramps to launch unnerving tricks for the appreciation of those entering to watch the matches.

In 1996, Cédric Pioline, who is now the Tournament Director, was jeered following a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 loss to Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia. Walking off the court, he expressed his feelings (a “Middle Finger Salute”) later saying, “Tonight I am not proud to be French…” then added that his finger wave was “…for a small bunch of idiots.”

The same year, in the first round, boisterous fans got the best of three-time tournament champion, Boris Becker.

Carlos Moya, then an unheralded Spaniard, sent Becker home, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 after which the German candidly offered, “It was the worst audience I ever played in front of. It was like Carlos Moya and I were big gorillas, and around us a multitude of animals were constantly trying to annoy us.”

In 2007, the Singles competition went from five sets to three set contests.

The carpet court, once one of the tour’s fastest indoor surfaces, has, since 2011, been slowed so that it is a contemporary of the court speeds found on the entire ATP circuit.

Roger Federer winning on the slower court in 2011.
Photo: Christophe Guibbaud

Court speed aside, there have been a collection of unexpected results. Qualifiers reaching the final is one such category.

In 2004, Radek Štěpánek of the Czech Republic lost 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to Marat Safin, the No. 6 seed from Russia.

In 2012, Jerzy Janowicz of Poland was defeated 6-4, 6-3 by No. 4 seed, David Ferrer of Spain.

In 2017, Filip Krajinović of Serbia finished on the short end of a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 contest with Jack Sock, the No. 16 seed from the US.

There has even been a “No Seed…” final. In 2003, Tim Henman of Great Britain downed Andrei Pavel of Romania, 6-2, 7-6, 7-6.

Novak Djokovic in the 2022 final – a rare loss. Photo: ATP

It is hardly a surprise that “Djokovic Totals…” dominate Rolex Paris Masters statistics. The Serbian’s six Men’s Singles trophies is the best in tournament history…as are his 54 matches played and the 45 he has won. Going into the 2023 event, he is tied with Feliciano López of Spain, Gilles Simon of France, and Fernando Verdasco of Spain with most appearances – 16.

Losing to Holger Rune, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in last year’s final added another entry to Djokovic’s tournament records. His 19-year-old Danish opponent became the second youngest player to win the Men’s Singles since the 18-year-old Becker defeated Sergio Casal of Spain, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 for the 1986 title.

Traditionally, the Rolex Paris Masters concludes the ATP 1000 Series for the year, in “Lights Out…” fashion…which is fitting since Paris is “The City of Light” (because at the beginning of the 19th Century it was the first European city to illuminate its streets with gas lighting). 

This year’s October 28th to November 6th championship promises to live up to the expectations that have been long-established.

Title photo by Stephane Allaman

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