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Throwback Thursday: The Bounding Basque

Jean Borotra's cap in the Wimbledon Museum
by Sarah Kirkham
Thursday 21 August 2014

Wimbledon's Throwback Thursday series continues with a look at Jean Borotra, the Bounding Basque. Wimbledon.com explains...

It’s not every day you are able to witness a tennis legend take part in a Championship main event 42 years after their first Wimbledon appearance. But in 1964, this is exactly what eager tennis fans had in store. At 65 years old, Jean Borotra was participating in the Gentlemen’s and Mixed Doubles.

Playing with fellow Frenchman Gil de Kermadec in the Gentlemen’s Doubles, they lost in the first round to Jan Hajer and Tom Okker from the Netherlands 6-4, 6-3, 6-1. Borotra succeeded in reaching the second round of the Mixed Doubles with Isabelle de Lansalut, also from France, but was defeated by Ian Crookenden and Robyn Ebbern 6-3, 6-0. The fact that he competed in the main event at this age certainly tells you something about his enthusiasm. Budge Patty for instance was born in the same year as Borotra’s first victory, and ceased playing in the main events in 1961. Three years before Borotra stopped playing.

Borotra is possibly best remembered as one of the greatest French players to have dominated the golden age of tennis in the 1920s. As part of the ‘Four Musketeers’ (which included Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon) every Gentlemen’s Singles Championship between 1924 and 1929 was a French victory. They appeared to be unstoppable.

His first victory came in 1924, two years after his first appearance. He defeated his fellow Musketeer Lacoste 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 to become the first male from outside the English speaking world to win Wimbledon.

During this dominance Borotra was given the nickname ‘The Bounding Basque’. Wearing his trademark black beret, he played with an infectious flare and excitement that rapidly spread throughout the transfixed crowd. This excitement was often heightened when he began to kiss the hands of female spectators during play. Something I am sure a few avid tennis fans of today would not mind!

He continually played in the main events from 1922 to 1939, and again from 1948 to 1964. During the war years he was created the French First General Commissioner to Sports until 1942 when he was arrested by the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo. He spent the rest of the war imprisoned in a German concentration camp before being moved to Itter Castle in Austria until May 1945. 

Borotra continued to play at Wimbledon as part of the Veteran’s events (later renamed the Senior Invitation Doubles) right up until 1977 - 55 years after his Wimbledon debut!!

To this day, he remains the oldest competitor to have competed in the main event. I wonder how John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors would fare in the main event today?

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