Monaco is best known for the legendary Monte Carlo Rally and unique Formula 1 car racing event, the Monaco Grand Prix, but it has been at the forefront of tennis since the 1880s when this new English outdoor pastime became popular with the many English residents and wealthy visitors to Monte Carlo, who played on the pigeon shooting range below the Casino. In 1893, Société des Bains de Mer built two tennis courts behind the Hotel de Paris and the Monte Carlo Lawn Tennis Club was born, with the first Monte Carlo tennis tournament in 1897. The 1920s was the time of star players Suzanne Lenglen, Helen Wills and Bunny Austin and by 1927 there were four tennis clubs in the Monaco Lawn Tennis Federation. More space was needed than was available in Monaco so land was purchased in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin for the construction of a 5-star modern tennis club and in 1927 the Monte-Carlo Country Club opened, with 3 main clay courts and 200 members. The club now has 21 clay courts, 2046 members and last year welcomed over 127,000 tennis fans to a week of world-class tennis.
The history of tennis in Monaco is fascinating, as much for the colourful and famous personalities involved as for the game itself, which became popular worldwide as radio and television publicised sporting events. Francis Truchi, director of MCCC since 1978, played in the famous Davis Cup from 1966 to 1972 and remembers this sea change in the game as wealthy Americans began to sponsor their players and what had been a pastime for amateurs became big business with big prizes and ever-bigger international tournaments. Small clubs found it difficult to compete, but the MCCC has kept its place in the modern world of international tennis with sound management by people with a lifetime’s involvement in the tennis world, constant improvement of facilities and concern for the comfort of the players themselves. “We concentrate on improving the quality, not the quantity,” explains the present tournament director, Croatian Zeljko Franulovic, who was a professional player for 12 years, winning 7 doubles and 9 singles titles and in 1970 reaching the finals of the French Open and winning in Monaco.
The Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tennis tournament, which is not only a major sporting event, bringing thousands of fans from tennis clubs as far away as Marseille, is the favourite venue of the professional tennis players. It has also become a popular social occasion, a rendezvous of tennis greats and their fans in an unrivalled setting, the Monte-Carlo Country Club, where they can lunch in style on the terrace overlooking the central court where Rafael Nadal, an amazing 8-time winner in Monte Carlo and winner of the Brazil Open in February, will be defending his title for the ninth successive year.
As part of the celebrations of their 150th anniversary this year and the first day of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, SBM has sponsored a tennis demonstration between two of the top players in the Place du Casino and an exhibition of winning tennis photographs taken at last year’s tournament in the atrium of the Casino (Apr 13-21 2013).
Photo credit: SBM