Who is the real Simonne? - Roland-Garros - The official site (2024)

Spotlight on Simonne Mathieu, the player who has lent her name to the new court at Roland-Garros.

Who is the real Simonne? - Roland-Garros - The official site (1)

Before anyone takes a seat on Roland Garros’ new show court – Simonne-Mathieu court– we would like to tell you a bit about the tennis champion after whom the court is named.

Simonne Mathieu – a hugely talented player and true legend of French tennis, and history in general – has been given a prominent place in the emblematic Porte d’Auteuil stadium this year. Acknowledged then forgotten, it is now, nearly forty years after her death, that this outstanding woman and athlete has been given the recognition that she deserves.

Simonne, with a double “n”

As unusual as the spelling of her first name, Simonne Mathieu is a key figure in French tennis and, indeed, French history. Born Simonne Passemard in Neuilly sur Seine on 31st January 1908, her childhood was marked by the tumultuous relationship she had with her father, a soldier in the First World War.

At the age of 12, she was in poor health and was advised to take up regular exercise. She chose to play tennis, encouraged by her brother Pierre, a talented young player and member of the Stade Français. In 1923, Simonne Mathieu won the Prix d’Automne, organised by the Racing Club de France, which is when she first started making a name for herself.

Who is the real Simonne? - Roland-Garros - The official site (3)

In 1925, she triumphed in the final of the French Junior Championships, entered into the French elite and competed in the French Open for the first time, where she lost in the quarterfinals to Hélène Contostavlos. That same year, aged 17, she married René Mathieu, son of one of the founders and secretary general of the Stade Français.

Her husband was a journalist, a former rugby, tennis and badminton player, and ran tennis magazine Smash, but, moreover, he was chairman of the French Tennis Federation’s Press and Propaganda Committee for many years. Decorated with the Legion of Honour in 1951 for his work as a sports manager, his name is often associated with that of his wife, who he always supported.

A rare "triple"

Her thirteen Grand Slam titles (two in singles, nine in doubles and two in mixed doubles) make her France’s second most successful female tennis player ever, after Suzanne Lenglen. Though her name was misspelt on the trophy awarded to the winners of the women’s doubles at Roland Garros, no mistakes have been made on the signs designating the stadium’s newest show court.

Around the world

Despite the birth of her two sons in 1927 and 1928 and her new role as a mother, Simonne Mathieu never strayed far from the tennis court. Prepared to travel all over the globe to compete in tournaments, she visited half of the countries in the world in under 15 years.

Between 1925 and 1939, she played matches in Belgium, Italy, Holland, Eastern Europe and even Egypt and Central Asia. She is the only French woman ever to have played, and won in 1938, the Pacific Coast Tournament, which was held in California. She was extremely proud of the number of tournaments she had played and the number of countries she had visited.

“I went everywhere, except to Scandinavia, the Indies and Australia. We had a great life when we were travelling; we were treated like royalty.”

She also played in a number of French tournaments every year, such as Saint-Gervais, Strasbourg, Nice and Biarritz, which she won on several occasions after Suzanne Lenglen and Nelly Landry.

Who is the real Simonne? - Roland-Garros - The official site (4)

After her final French victory at Roland Garros in 1939 and her quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon, she set off for the United States to play in the American Championships in August. While she was stepping out on court in Forest Hills tennis club in New York, back in Europe, France and Great Britain were declaring war on Nazi Germany…

London calling

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Simonne immediately withdrew from the tournament she was playing in New York and rushed back home to France. In 1940, she signed up to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army.

This was how she answered the famous appeal of 18th June 1940, launched by General de Gaulle. Simonne Mathieu did not hesitate to put her tennis career on hold and hastened to London to join the Free French Forces.

Thanks to her perseverance and commitment, she was given the task of setting up her own army – an auxiliary corps of French female volunteers – which was called the “Corps des volontaires féminines françaises” (French Women’s Volunteer Corps). She became the corps’ commanding officer and dealt with recruitment and training.

On 26th August 1944, the day of the Liberation of Paris, she marched up the Champs Elysées alongside General de Gaulle. Simonne Mathieu, the tennis champion, had become a captain of the French Army.

Who is the real Simonne? - Roland-Garros - The official site (5)

A passionate woman

A brave and passionate woman, Simonne Mathieu behaved in the same way off court as she did during matches: she was impulsive, dynamic and perseverant.

“On the court, my opponent is my enemy.”

During the Monte-Carlo tournament in 1939, when she was playing Hilde Sperling in the final, an umpiring error caused her to walk out on the match.

Her impulsive attitude never went unnoticed, especially at Wimbledon, where she caused a stir on two particular occasions due to her fits of rage. The first was in 1931, when she was beaten in the semifinals by Germany’s Cilly Aussem. Simonne Mathieu left the court immediately after the match, refusing to perform the traditional end-of-match handshake.

Five years later, during the 1936 tournament, a language slip on court consolidated her reputation as a player with a fierce temper.

On 8th December 1936, the Miroir des Sports reported: “As the net had, on several occasions, sent the ball out of her reach, Madame Mathieu was unable to repress her rage and, throwing her racquet down in fury, shouted, ‘Even this damned net is English!’ Unfortunately for her, British people view using the word ‘damned’ as a serious breach of decorum.”

Who is the real Simonne? - Roland-Garros - The official site (6)©DR-don famille Mathieu

The Liberation match

17th September 1944, 2.30pm. On this last Sunday of the summer, a match was organised to celebrate the French liberation. French players Henri Cochet and Yvon Pétra were playing each other on Centre Court. It was the Liberation Match.

The sun was shining and, perched on the umpire’s chair, dressed in her French Free Forces uniform, sat former player Simonne Mathieu, the chair umpire for this legendary match. She had made a triumphant return to the courts of Roland Garros. The duel was over, Pétra defeated Cochet “The Magician” 6-1 6-2.

Who is the real Simonne? - Roland-Garros - The official site (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Aracelis Kilback

Last Updated:

Views: 6317

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Aracelis Kilback

Birthday: 1994-11-22

Address: Apt. 895 30151 Green Plain, Lake Mariela, RI 98141

Phone: +5992291857476

Job: Legal Officer

Hobby: LARPing, role-playing games, Slacklining, Reading, Inline skating, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Dance

Introduction: My name is Aracelis Kilback, I am a nice, gentle, agreeable, joyous, attractive, combative, gifted person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.