Who is Roland Garros and why is the French Open named after him?

French Open-Roland Garros flags

The name Roland Garros has become synonymous with French tennis despite the fact that the man himself didn’t play tennis.

Roland Garros was a pioneer in aviation, a hero of the First World War, and a person who valued deep friendships.

At the request of Emile Lesueur, president of the Stade Français and Roland Garros’ former classmate at the HEC business school, whose campaign to chair the Stade Français had been supported by the pilot and inventor decades earlier, the tennis stadium that had been built for the Mousquetaires to defend their Davis Cup title was named after Roland Garros ten years after his passing, in 1928.

Garros was an avid sportsman but his focus was geared towards other French passions in football, rugby and cycling.

Garros, who was born on 6 October 1888, in Saint-Denis de la Réunion, graduated from the HEC business school and started his own business as a 21-year-old vehicle dealer close to the Arc de Triomphe until his life dramatically changed course in August 1909.

He attended his first air show after being invited to the Champagne area by a friend, and instantly fell in love with aircraft.

Garros is said to have never done anything half-heartedly, so he bought a plane right once and began teaching himself to fly before getting his pilot’s license.

Two years after developing an unquenchable lust for flying, on 6 September, 1911, Garros broke his first altitude record when he took off from Houlgate Beach and flew to a height of 3,910 meters (just under 13,000 feet).

He participated in several air shows and races, astounding the audience with his boldness and creativity. Thousands of people from South America and Europe flocked to see him compete when he swiftly rose to fame in the sport.

Roland Garros aspired to soar beyond the oceans and had lofty goals. He decided to take on a new challenge and cross the Mediterranean, which had never been done before at that point. He took out in his Morane-Saulnier monoplane from Saint-Raphael on the French Riviera towards Bizerte in Tunisia on 23 September 1913. Nearly eight hours would pass throughout this epic voyage.

After taking off at 5:47 and traveling 780 kilometres (485 miles) with 200 litres of gasoline and 60 liters of castor oil on board, Garros arrived in Tunisia at 13:40 despite experiencing two engine problems that he quickly fixed.

His epic landing across the Mediterranean with just five litres of fuel to spare made him a bright light among the great minds of Paris.

Garros put his skills as an aviator to use in defence of his country during the first world war.

He would invent the first first on-board machine gun able to fire through the propeller of the plane enabling a giant leap in the use of aircraft in defence.

He was shot down twice during the war, first being captured by German soldiers and then in the second after returning to battle despite failing health he was killed on 5 October 1918 over the Ardennes.

A war hero and inventor, Roland Garros’ name was given to the tennis stadium in Paris ensuring his legacy will endure for years to come. The tournament itself is also known by the name of the French aviation icon.

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