The French Open, that is the annual clay court Grand Slam at Roland Garros, has two prominent names for their courts. For the women, it is Suzanne Lenglen, the former French Tennis player who was the World No.1 from 1921 to 1926. For the men, it is Phillippe Chatrier. While Lenglen was a bonafide great, Chatrier made his mark moderately as a tennis player. But, his exploits in Tennis administration are legendary. It is due to the exploits of Chatrier that Tennis in France gained tremendous interest. It was also the efforts of Chatrier that saw the sport break a 64-year drought in the Olympics.
The world will forever remember Phillippe Chatrier as one of the greatest administrators to have ever come out of France. In 1945, Chatrier won the French Junior Tennis championship at the age of 19. But, Tennis was his secondary love. After retirement, he became a journalist. He founded the magazine Tennis de France in 1953. Chatrier was also sports and news editor for the Paris daily newspaper Paris-Presse. However, it was his traits as an administrator that earmarked him for greatness.
Chatrier was part of the merger of professional and amateur tennis organisations in 1968. He was a vice-president of the French Tennis Federation from 1968 to 1973. In 1969, he was the captain of the French Davis Cup team . He became president of the French Tennis Federation in 1973, then president of the International Tennis Federation in 1977.
It was in his time as an administrator that French Tennis took giant steps. In 1971, he enrolled a young Yannick Noah in the French development program on the recommendation of US great Arthur Ashe. In his tenure as the French federation president, the number of registered players rose from 224,000 to 1,350,000. The increase in numbers saw French Tennis revitalized. In 1983, the zenith of Chatrier’s administration was reached. Noah won the French Open for the first time in 36 years.
In 1977, with his appointment as the president of the International Tennis Federation, he got a spot in the International Olympic Council. Chatrier wanted to get Tennis back in the Olympics. The sport had made its debut in 1896 but it had disappeared from the scene from 1924. In 1984, it made a comeback as a demonstration sport. In 1988, it was reinstated as a medal sport in Seoul.
Chatrier suffered from Alzheimers in his final years and he died at the age of 74 in 2000. The Philippe Chatrier Award is announced in his honour. It is an annual International Tennis Federation (ITF) award. It recognises individuals or organisations considered to have made outstanding contributions to tennis globally, both on and off the court.
Chatrier is the prime reason for the revival of French Tennis and also for the Sport to have a presence in the Olympics. It is fitting that the main Centre Court in Roland Garros is named after him.