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Tennis tumult: 1972 Roland Garros

Matt Zemek

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The Roland Garros-Wimbledon transition is the time of year when two of the four major tournaments are played in close proximity to each other, as an extension of both time and geography. What ends in Paris is quickly revived in suburban London. No seven-week period on the tennis calendar contains more significance in the sport each year.

This is the best time to look back on the history of tennis at the major tournaments. In this series at Tennis With An Accent, we present various instances of “Tennis Tumult.” More precisely, we offer various examples of how tennis was — pick your term of choice here — disordered or scattered or shaken or jumbled, something in one of those veins.

You will note that Roger Federer’s ATP win total was retroactively changed shortly after Roland Garros ended. You will also note that Jimmy Connors’ ATP match win total, which had stood at 1,256 in the record books, was changed to 1,274 earlier this year:

There was obviously a review process which made the ATP reconsider what constituted an ATP Tour match victory. This comes from the reality that in the 1970s, there were so many more tennis tournaments than today. There were competing pro circuits at the start of the Open Era. It was the Wild Wild West in tennis terms.

Phrased differently, the sport could not easily agree on what was — or wasn’t — the right structure or set of conditions for an event to gain a specific level of official recognition.

This dynamic most commonly and frequently applied to small tournaments in out of the way places such as North Conway, New Hampshire… but you might be surprised to learn that even at the majors in the 1970s, tennis couldn’t find easy or unanimous agreement on what its tournaments should look like, and how they should be arranged.

This is the inspiration and basis for “Tennis Tumult.” We will provide examples of how irregular tennis and (more specifically) tennis structures were in the 1970s and into the early 1980s.

Let’s start with this example: 1972 Roland Garros.

What was so notable about 1972 Roland Garros to include it in this series?

To start, go to 1973.

In 1973, Roland Garros had a 128-player men’s tournament — you know, a normal field at major tournaments.

However, 1972 didn’t have 128 men in the field. It had only 80 players, with 48 first-round byes. You can look it up right here.

That’s right: It took a few years for Roland Garros to attract a full field of players at its men’s tournament. This doesn’t take away from champion Andres Gimeno, who won the event at 34 (making him older as a Roland Garros champion than Rafael Nadal was this year), but it is meant to show — like the other examples in “Tennis Tumult” — how bumpy a ride tennis has endured over the years. Even when the Open Era was just beginning to get off the ground, it wasn’t as though tennis collectively hit its stride.

It didn’t.

It needed some time to stabilize… and even then, stability has never existed very long on the (few) occasions when tennis has found it.

This is the story of Roland Garros in 1972. Tennis Tumult is not just a modern reality, and it also wasn’t something which vanished when the amateur era gave way to Open tennis in 1968.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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