Obituary: Jean Borotra

Jean Robert Borotra, tennis player, civil engineer, company director: born Arbonne, Biarritz 13 August 1898; French singles champion 1924, 1931; Wimbledon singles champion 1924, 1926; French doubles champion 1925, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1936; Wimbledon doubles champion 1925, 1932, 1933; Wimbledon mixed doubles champion 1925; US mixed doubles champion 1926; French mixed doubles champion 1927, 1934; Australian singles champion 1928; Australian doubles champion 1928; Australian mixed doubles champion 1928; Commercial Manager, Satam 1924-30, Director 1930-75; Vice-President, French Lawn Tennis Association 1930-68; Commissar-General, General Education and Sport 1940-42; President, International Lawn Tennis Federation 1960-61; married 1938 Mabel de Forest (one son; marriage dissolved 1947), 1988 Janine Bourdin; died Arbonne 17 July 1994.

TODAY young tennis fans at Wimbledon scream at the sight of Andre Agassi; in the 1980s similar crowds loved to hate John McEnroe and in the 1970s Bjorn Borg had to be given police protection to prevent him being mobbed by teeny-boppers while on his way to the courts. But if you could roll the attractions of all three of these players into one hero the result would still fall short of Jean Borotra, winner of the singles title at Wimbledon in 1924 and 1926.

Borotra was the greatest matinee idol lawn tennis has ever produced. Showman that he was, he often said that he wished he could make his final exit while serving an ace on the centre court at the All England Club. Although this was not to be, he was still playing his own brand of doubles when he was well into his nineties.

Born in 1898 in Arbonne, near Biarritz, Borotra came into competitive tennis when it was developing from a social pastime into a sport with mass appeal. His unequalled personality was a vital part of the mystique that makes Wimbledon what it is today: a multi-million pound world-wide television spectacular.

The flappers of the Twenties flocked in their hundreds to see Borotra in action: and what action it was. He played the game as if he had invented it. In his long white flannels and his black beret he rushed into the net and produced acrobatic volleys which had his admirers swooning with delight. Even in the middle of his toughest matches he would catch the eye of the prettiest girls on the sidelines and smile at them. And much to the annoyance of some opponents he even found time to kiss a few hands between points. Borotra's contests were not so much matches as theatrical productions. It may seem strange in these cynical times, but then only the uncharitable suggested that there could be a hint of gamesmanship in his relationship with spectators.

In fact Borotra was very much a gentleman. He was a successful businessman, and to the end his elegant dress and his manners made it seem as if he had just stepped from a Jane Austen drawing-room. But behind the smiles and the polite gestures he had the heart of a tiger, albeit a playful one.

Borotra was one of the 'Four Musketeers', the Frenchmen who dominated the tennis world in the 1920s. Rene Lacoste was the youngest and most austere, studying strokes and tactics; Henri Cochet was the cool and nonchalant magician, and Toto Brugnon was the rock on which most of their successful doubles pairings were built. But it was the volatile Borotra who was the inspiration of the greatest team France, or any other country for that matter, has ever produced. They helped France win the Davis Cup from 1927 to 1932 without a break, and this in spite of Fred Perry's playing for Britain in 1931. In total Borotra won 44 of his 54 Davis Cup rubbers.

Besides his two wins at Wimbledon, Borotra reached the final there a further three times, on each occasion losing to one or another of his French team-mates. He was successful at doubles, both with Lacoste and Brugnon, and with the great Suzanne Lenglen won the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 1925, the sensational year when she was late for her match and Borotra, at the request of the referee, was asked to go into the ladies dressing-room where Lenglen was having a fit of hysterics to try to persuade her to go on to court. Borotra later boasted that he was the only man to have entered the ladies dressing-room at Wimbledon, but that is not quite true for the All England Club later employed a blind male masseur for the lady competitors.

Borotra won the French singles title in 1924 and 1931 and the Australian title in 1928. In the United States his major successes included winning the National Indoor Championships four times. In all he won 19 titles - in singles, doubles and mixed doubles - at the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US championships.

During the Second World War Borotra accepted the position of Minister of Sport for the Petain government, but when he resigned the post in 1942 he was arrested whilst trying to escape to North Africa and imprisoned. After his serious playing days Borotra did a lot of powerful work for the French Federation and the International Tennis Federation and supported the opening up of the game to professionals in 1968.

He received many high honours during his colourful life including being made a Commander of the Legion d'Honneur, being appointed honorary CBE, and receiving the Croix de Guerre in both World Wars, but the one that gave him most pleasure was that of seeing his name on the list of champions at the All England Club where in his playing days he used to arrive on the eve of the event in a chauffeur-driven Hispano-Suiza with half a dozen rackets and a case which included white tie and tails for dinner that night. Jean Borotra was a man with style.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions