article by Nicholas Pucci
To tell the truth, when the 38th edition of the French Internationals opens its doors on May 25, 1933, there is very little chance that the tournament will escape the tennis players at home. In fact, since the English Briggs won on his debut, in 1891, the French have never failed to make their appointment with the home tournament, even if it is good to remember that until 1924 participation was only open to them, to then enter the ‘was of the “Musketeers of France“, or rather Lacoste, Cochet, Borotra and Brugnon, which prevented the champions from abroad from being able to compete for final success.
But as of precisely 1933, that’s on the horizon the figure of Australian Jack Crawford loomsuntil then underperforming in performances away from his country, so much so that he won three consecutive editions of the Australian Open, 1931, 1932 and 1933, beating Harry Hopman on two occasions and Keith Gledhill last, but then not going beyond a semifinal at the US Open in the same 1932, when he was defeated in three quick sets by Ellsworth Vines, undoubtedly the strongest tennis player of the year.
Excursions on Parisian clay, for Crawford, are resolved in the quarter-finals reached in 1928when little more than 20 years old and credited with the number 8 seed, he surrendered to René Lacoste, 6-0 6-1 7-5, and then, in 1930, when he was the fifth favorite of the tournament, he even left the scene in the second round, demolished with an unequivocal 6-3 6-2 6-3 by the Briton John Gregory. But for the current year, 1933, with the help of his third success in the Australian Grand Slam, the champion of Urangeline is ready to do battle, with a few more good cards to play at the final victory table.
Indeed, with Lacoste withdrawing and Borotra absent, France entrusts Cochet, reigning champion as well as 5-times winner of the tournament, with his chances of retaining a title that the previous year was questioned by Giorgio De Stefani from Verona, the first Italian player in history to reach the final in a tournament Slamwho sold his life dearly by surrendering in four sets, 6-0 6-4 4-6 6-3, and who for the occasion is seeded fifth in a draw that has in Cochet and Crawford, in fact, the first two favorites. And if the exuberant Fred Perry, still dry of hits in the Majorplays the third wheel, with the German Daniel Prenn number 4 and the Japanese Jiro Satoh, the American Frank Shields and the Czechoslovakian Roderich Menzel completing the picture of the top eight seeds, there are really not many who believe that the cup can escape, once again, the home star. In short, Cochet against everyone.
Cochet, having lost a set in his debut to the other Czechoslovakian Novotny, is then punctual for the quarter-final appointment, where he finds Menzel on his way, finally defeated in three sets, 7-5 6-4, 6-1, opening thus the doors of the semifinal where the surprising Englishman Harry Lee awaits himwho not only beat Prenn in the round of 16, but then shattered the illusions of the young and promising Marcel Bernard, one who will win at Roland-Garros in the second half after the second war and who takes the luxury of stopping De Stefani in five sets in the round of 16, finally eliminated with a peremptory 6-0 in the fourth set.
In the pass part of the board Crawford and Perry are true to their statusleaving the Japanese Ryuki Miki and the Czechoslovakian Friederich Von Rohrer on the road a couple of sets, the other engaged in four sets only by the umpteenth Praguer in contention, Josef Malacek, but if Satoh is in turn among the best eight by leading in five sets of South African Colin Robbins, Shields pays duty to have to play “away” against Christian Boussus, already a finalist in 1931, who by winning in four sets still makes an all-French final at Roland-Garros possible, albeit not too probable.
Crawford, obviously, is not of the same opinion, and with the clear success in three sets, 6-3 6-3 6-1, he conquers the semifinal, where he will challenge Satoh, who unexpectedly eliminates Perry in five sets, 1-6 7- 5 6-4 2-6 6-2replicating a top four result in a Grand Slam event exactly two years earlier, when he was beaten in five sets by Borotra, and as also in Australia and at Wimbledon in 1932.
Cochet and Crawford, numbers 1 and 2 on the draw, now have too good an opportunity to reach the decisive act, and they really don’t let it slip, with the defending champion losing the first set 9-11, only to come back with a periodic 6-3, and the Aussie demolishing Satoh, 6-0 6-2 6-2, for the final that everyone was waiting for on the eve. But this time, despite the predictions, the outcome will be completely surprising.
On June 5, 1933, on Court Central of Roland Garros, Crawford ensnares the opponent with his complete game, and if he pockets a tight first set, 8-6, he then leaves his mark on the match, increasingly confident and in rhythm as the games go by. He finishes in just three sets, 6-1 6-3and if Jack Crawford thus becomes, to all intents and purposes, the first foreign tennis player to wear the crown of King of France, he still doesn’t know that in a few months he will be about to accomplish a feat that he missed by a whisker. Yep, the first Grande Slam of the history of tennis… but we have already talked about this.