“Victory belongs to the most tenacious.”
This is the statement stenciled onto the inside of the stands at Court Philippe-Chatrier, the center court at the Stade Roland Garros. In English, the “Stade Roland Garros” translates from French into “Roland Garros Stadium,” and it is the name of the complex of tennis courts located in Paris that host the French Open.
This year’s tournament is taking place right now, and if you are tennis fan like me, then you know that on Friday, we will be treated to a men’s semifinal match up between the two best players in the world, the legendary Novak Djokovic, and tennis’ newest brilliant star, Carlos Alcaraz.
Last year about this time, the tennis world was treated to an epic match between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. That outcome was a Nadal victory in four sets, with the final set being an intense tiebreaker that saw some of the match’s most brilliant shots. That match also showed the resolute nature of both men, battling with what appears to be every fiber of their respective beings in the pursuit of a single goal, i.e., to make a great shot, to win a point, to win a game, to win a set, to win a match and to win a tournament.
Both incredible competitors will go down in the annals of the sport as two of the most tenacious players ever to pick up a racket. And that is appropriate, because tenacity is a trait that embodies the actual person the Stade Roland Garros was named after.
Now, you might think (as I naturally did) that given this is a tennis stadium, the Stade Roland Garros would be named after a tennis great. I mean, in America, we hold the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, and the featured center court matches there are played in Arthur Ashe Stadium. That stadium was named after one of the greatest American tennis stars, Arthur Ashe, a man who won the inaugural U.S. Open event in 1968.
Yet, Roland Garros wasn’t a professional tennis player.
The intense eyes of Roland Garros betray his tenacity. Photo is in the public domain.
Roland Garros was a French businessman, an aviator, a World War I fighter pilot, an inventor, a skilled pianist, a pioneer, a hero and a trailblazer — definitely a Renaissance Man. Born in Saint-Denis de la Réunion on October 6, 1888, Garros was educated at the HEC business school. At the age of 21, he started his own company, a car dealership near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Now, mind you, this was in 1909, and there weren’t many car dealerships at that time.
Interestingly, in August 1909, his life changed, as he attended his first air show in the Champagne region of France. Garros is said to have fallen in love with these new winged machines, and soon thereafter, he bought a plane and taught himself how to fly.
Two years later, on September 6, 1911, Garros broke his first altitude record, reaching 3,910 meters (about 13,000 feet). He was soon a regular on the nascent air show circuit and in competitive air races, and he became known for his daring aviation skills. He even became a bit of a star in the aviation world, as hundreds of thousands of people in both Europe and South America would come to watch him in action.
Just two years after that altitude record, Garros took his airplane across the Mediterranean Sea, something that had never been done at the time. On September 23, 1913, he flew from Saint-Raphaël on the French Riviera to Bizerte (Tunisia), a journey that took nearly eight hours.
At the onset of World War I, Garros employed his aviation skills in defense of his native France. At that time, aviation in war was new, and airplanes were equipped with little or no weaponry. That changed, however, once Garros decided to invent a machine gun that could be mounted on a fighter plane — one that could be synchronized to fire through the propeller.
In April 1915, Sub-Lieutenant Roland Garros had already used his aviation skills and new invention to win several aerial battles against German aircraft. But on one mission, his plane was hit by German anti-aircraft fire over Belgium. Garros was forced to land, and he was subsequently taken prisoner before he had a chance to destroy his plane. His brilliant invention unfortunately fell into German hands, and that nation’s engineers used his ideas and adapted them to their own aircraft.
But the story gets even better. After three years in captivity, Roland Garros escaped his captors, and he did so disguised as a German officer. Unfortunately, his health had suffered mightily during captivity, but that didn’t stop the tenacious Garros from rejoining the fight.
As a result of his capture, he became badly short-sighted and had trouble seeing well enough to fly a plane. But Garros didn’t let this ailment deter him. So, he made himself eyeglasses in secret, not telling any of his fellow French aviators, so that he could see well enough to keep flying and keep battling the Germans. Sadly, on October 5, 1918, Roland Garros was killed in the skies over the Ardennes, doing what he wanted to do, and becoming legendary in the process.
In 1928, about a decade after his death, France had turned her attention to sport via the building of a large tennis stadium in Paris. One of the heads of this tennis stadium project was a man named Emile Lesueur, a former business school classmate of Roland Garros at the HEC. It was Lesueur who made sure that the Stade Français would be named the Stade Roland Garros in honor of his friend and fallen hero.
So, what can we take out of this story that I suspect you never knew about until now?
By reading about the valorous lives of those who shaped the world around us with their intelligence, courage and, most importantly, their tenacity in the face of unspeakable adversity, we can draw inspiration in our own lives when it comes time to meet our own challenges, set our own records, battle our own enemies, escape our own captors and rejoin the fight to defend our values.
Because as Garros said, “Victory belongs to the most tenacious.”
Simon Says Tears and Smiles
Many is the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m alright, I’m alright
Just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
–Paul Simon, “American Tune”
Perhaps the greatest singer/songwriter of the past five decades, Paul Simon is a huge musical force that’s moved listeners around the world with tears and smiles. In this solo acoustic performance form the Dick Cavett Show in 1974, Simon delivers a gorgeous rendition of the iconic and deeply thoughtful anthem “American Tune.” If you are so inclined, I recommend checking out this performance, as well just about any Paul Simon performance. You will, I suspect, come away with a sense of appreciation for artistry of the highest type. And you may also come away with tears and a smiles.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,