Lacoste and his fellow Musketeers
The entire world has heard of Lacoste tee shirts and the Lacoste clothing line. Many of us wear them too. Do we know who introduced them?
Tennis champion Jean Rene Lacoste had the honour of doing so in 1929. The American press nicknamed Lacoste “the crocodile” after he said he had been promised a crocodile-skin suitcase if he won an important match. His game being relentless in nature, the nickname appealed to tennis fans. Later, his friend Robert George designed a crocodile and sewed it onto his blazer and it became Lacoste’s trademark. It still is, and the famous short-sleeved cotton tee-shirts are much loved everywhere.
Lacoste was one of 4 French Tennis champions who are collectively known as the 4 Musketeers, after the principal characters in Alexandre Dumas’s book “The Three Musketeers”.
These 4 Musketeers of tennis collectively won 20 Grand Slam singles titles and 23 Grand Slam doubles titles. They also featured in 6 Davis Cup wins in a row. Not only did they stop a 6-year title run of USA in 1927, the Frenchmen had a 6 year run of their own.
Let’s know a bit about these 4 tennis giants.
Jean Rene Lacoste
Lacoste was the world No.1 player in 1926 and 1927. He won as many as 7 Singles Grand Slams with 3 wins at French Open and 2 each at Wimbledon and the US Open.
He was also one of the victorious Davis Cup winning team in 1927 and 1928. He had 3 Grand Slam Doubles titles as well
Apart from the tennis tee-shirt, Lacoste had 2 major contributions. He invented the 1st hand-cranked ball machine for tennis practice. In the 1960’s he invented the steel tennis racket and over the next two decades, wooden rackets got eliminated altogether.
Henri too was the World No.1 player from 1928 to 1931. He was a ball-boy and the son of a tennis club’s groundskeeper. The President of the Club recognized his talent and volunteered to coach him for free, starting a memorable journey.
Cochet too like Lacoste won 7 Grand Slam singles, winning the French Open 4 times, Wimbledon twice and the US Open once. However, he had 5 Doubles wins at the Slams and he featured in all the 6 Davis Cup triumphs from 1927 to 32.
Jean as a player was known as “the Bounding Basque”. He reached a high of world No.2 and won 4 Grand Slam singles titles winning Wimbledon twice and the French Open and US Open once each. He was also in the Victorious Davis Cup team from 1927 to 1932 and won Grand Slam Doubles as many as 9 times. As a tennis player, unlike his peers, he believed in the volley. He reached the net fast and trusted himself to win points with angled volleys.
Jean’s competitor Bill Tilden called him “God of galleries and devil of the players”. He used to have lot of antics like whipping up the passion of fans by exhorting them, football match style to clap for him. He often hit tennis balls wildly and would jump into the crowds to kiss the hands of lady spectators he had disturbed. He would also fling his trademark black beret at any lady spectator he found attractive. He was indeed a character.
Borotra was arrested by the Gestapo and survived life in a German Concentration Camp. At one point of time, he was subjected to pentathol (truth serum) and kept in solitary confinement for 6 months. He escaped the German castle which was his prison, passed through German lines by posing as a dim-witted peasant, swam across a river and returned with American reinforcements to win the castle for the Allies.
Jacques “Toto” Brugnon
Toto was primarily a doubles specialist who was a Grand Glam Doubles champion as many as 10 times and losing Grand Slam finalist 7 times as well. He also featured in 5 Davis Cup winning teams. As a singles player, his achievements were much more modest with him reaching world no.9 only once and reaching only 1 slam semi-final in his career- at Wimbledon.
The Four Musketeers were inducted together into the Hall of Fame in 1976.
Coming back to Lacoste, it is said that he turned himself into a world champion through determination, training, and fitness. He preferred playing from the baseline and everything served or volleyed or hit to him was returned back, so much so he was called the “human ball-machine”.
In contrast, Borotra preferred to reach the net and volley which was considered too risky an endeavour those days with hardly anyone trying the same. Brugnon of course was a doubles specialist while Cochet had a languid and unhurried manner. In fact, he played tennis at such a relaxed pace that he could hardly reach the net, and thereby he made the half volley his patented shot. It is said that his relaxed play and disinterested appearance masked his fierce competitiveness.
The 4 Musketeers were different personalities with different contrasting playing styles. The world of tennis is richer with the presence of such legends.