Marguerite Broquedis, the great forgotten tennis player

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Every week with RetroNews, the BNF press site, we take a look at a sports story as told by the press at the time. This Saturday, Marguerite Broquedis, swept by the tornado Suzanne Lenglen then that the war of 1914, from which she emerged morally destroyed, precipitated into oblivion.

Question superbanco. Who is the first French Olympic champion (Winter or summer games, all disciplines combined). A clue ? It was in 1912 in Stockholm. Another ? She dominated her discipline in the 1910s. One last? Said discipline is played with a racket. It’s … it’s … it’s … Suzanne Lenglen, too easy. No! It’s Marguerite Broquedis. Besides this gold medal, she won in 1913 and 1914 what would become the French Open. So much for the main lines of the prize list of the one who was the best player of her time and immensely popular. Who knows her? In women’s tennis of that era, only Suzanne Lenglen was retained. To which Broquedis inflicted his only defeat in the final of a tournament, in Paris in 1914. While in a world without Covid-19, Roland-Garros is currently in full swing, it is more than time to pay tribute to this great forgotten the history of sport.

Marguerite Broquedis was not born in tennis, but right next door. In the tennis court. His childhood in Pau, like that of his two brothers, took place in the sports hall of which their father was “master”. The little girl shows beautiful dispositions which will manifest themselves later in what is still called lawn-tennis, when the family settles in Paris. She quickly became a star in a sport whose female, from 1er August 1910, praises the female declination. “In the old days, stretchers were little-feared partners and it was an unkind practice, certainly, but of certain success, to deal them with difficult blows […] Today, they have acquired the flexibility, the vigor, the security of vision and of judgment which put them safe from small male treacheries. “

In a sport then very bourgeois, whose competitions are contested in the very beautiful districts or the popular Norman stations of “those of the high”, Marguerite Broquedis connects the good results that it is to the tournament of Neuilly in 1910 or that of Dieppe in 1911.

In June 1912, Marguerite Broquedis won the title of world champion on the courts of the Stade Français, in Saint-Cloud. “Mshe Broquedis had to support the French honor, rather badly engaged in these championships, against Mshe Rieck, from Germany, written the morning June 10. Mshe Broquedis was, so to speak, the guardian angel of this honor “, hitherto trampled on by the Germans among men. And then “A woman appeared and France had a victory in the world championship of tennis, in the same vein, West Eclair June 12. In the ladies’ final, the national self-esteem had a bit of a balm. Mshe Broquedis was for the occasion the gentle nurse of his stinging wound. With a suppleness and a dexterity that wowed the audience, she triumphed over her rival, Mshe Rieck – another German woman – and this victory, the only one that our country has won at the world tennis championship, is the revenge of feminism on the strong sex … or so-called.

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A few weeks later, Marguerite Broquedis is the only woman among the delegation of 112 athletes present in Stockholm for the Olympic Games. Curiously, the press is rather discreet about the first Olympic title in French women’s sport. Maybe because, as treacherously notes the newspaper July 6, “Besides, these Games are not always exclusively Olympic. And it is certain that lawn-tennis, rifle and revolver shooting are only very slightly renewed by the Greeks “. Nevertheless, notes the newspaper, “Mshe Broquedis is certainly the best player in the world today “. The same day, the small newspaper is almost surprised: “A Frenchwoman at the Olympic Games”, he titled above a photo of the player, very elegant with her Coco Chanel-style bell hat. From Stockholm, Broquedis also brought back the bronze medal for the mixed double.

In November 1912, “The invincible” Marguerite Broquedis, as she describes it the Excelsior from 4, add two new titles “To his long collection” by winning the singles and mixed doubles at the Tennis Club de Paris tournament.

“Mshe Broquedis is decidedly unbeatable ”, comments the Excelsior May 30, 1913, to account for his victory at the French championships (in fact the French Open, which will become Roland-Garros fifteen years later). Photo in support of the player striking a forehand, her strong point.

In La Life in the great outdoors November 15, 1913, Marguerite Broquedis, brilliantly confronts a perilous exercise. Define and explain, what remains a challenge today, the “style” a tennis player. A mixture of grace, elegance, subtlety, simplicity, purity, intelligence that translates the understanding of the game. “The style reflects the temperament of the subject, his taste for his personality. A beautiful style is always interesting in the eyes of the technician who knows all the difficulties, all the surprises that tennis has in store; it seduces the layman spectator, rarely insensitive to the simple, precise and skillfully calculated grace of the movements. ” Wow. And it’s not over : “We can also say that style, if it claims real beauty, must be sufficient with a great sobriety of movement by the implementation of only strictly useful efforts, and that everything that is a gesture of fantasy is to both an error of taste and often the testimony of an imperfect knowledge of the technique of the game. ” Roger Federer, get out of this pen.

In 1914, Marguerite Broquedis retained her title at the Internationaux de France. She is only 21 years old. It’s still six more than his opponent in the final. A certain Suzanne Lenglen. Today we would talk about the “Lenglen phenomenon”. The Future “Divine” Suzanne has not yet mowed on the back of the “goddess” Marguerite the wool of celebrity. But the photos of the final show that apart from the talent, there is a lot between the two women. To start with the look. Marguerite Broquedis, very wise allure, elegant long pleated dress bent at the waist by a black felt belt, hat bell also surrounded by a black ribbon. Suzanne Lenglen much more wild, straight skirt below the knee, wide tunic, a scarf as a headband. Two worlds. That day, the old wins again against the new. Broquedis is the last to beat Lenglen in a final.

A few weeks later, Lenglen became world champion on clay. A title that Broquedis won in 1912. The morning of June 9 cannot get over it: “The 15-year-old champion is truly a prodigy: vigorous, tireless, alert, active, possessing the experience of the game of lawn-tennis with remarkable precision, she joins qualities in this sporting art that ensure infallible success: l energy, self-control and the will to conquer. ” Nadal, come out of the body.

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The Broquedis-Lenglen rivalry would have prefigured the Homeric battles of play and personality, of style what, which embellished the female tennis of the last half century, the Evert-Navratilova, Graf-Seles, Graf-Hingis, Mauresmo-Hénin ? This opposition never saw the light of day, killed in the bud by war. We will never see Broquedis again at the highest level. At the end of the conflict, the Lenglen tornado took everything. The palmares and the popularity of his opponents. In 1920, “Mshe Suzanne Lenglen remains world tennis champion “, ad the morning July 2, 1920. As we said before the Broquedis War, the newspaper writes about Lenglen: “With her powerful, active, unclassifiable and precise game, the young Frenchwoman is currently unbeatable. There would only be Mme Billout-Broquedis… But this is another story. ”

The story of a woman who saw one of her brothers perished at the front in the early days of the First World War, in August 1914. Recovers the other disabled man for life after a combat injury. Mourns the death of cousins. Laminated spring of so many games lost against life. Won some successes under the names of Broquedis-Billout (her first husband, died in 1923), Broquedis-Bordes (her second husband). But it is impossible to exist sportingly and mediately in front of Suzanne Lenglen. The former best player in the world ends her career on a modest feat of arms: a victory in mixed doubles associated with Jean Borotra at the French Open in 1927.

Read also Suzanne Lenglen, first international “star” of French tennis

If history has made Lenglen a pioneer in all fields (game, style, charisma …) it is however Broquedis, who first “Took the steps leading to the modernization of women’s tennis”, writes Elizabeth Wilson, a novelist who specializes in feminism in the history of tennis (1). For example, she left in her wardrobe the corset without which it would have been incorrect to show herself on a court before her, but which greatly hampered mobility, and therefore performance. In her book Elizabeth Wilson quotes Ted Tinling. The designer who designed the dresses of many tennis stars (Navratilova, King, Evert …) had, as a child, met the family of Suzanne Lenglen with whom he had remained close. However, he wrote about Marguerite Broquedis: “It was the subject of the first fashion chronicle devoted to tennis never published in a newspaper, it created the first hairstyle adapted to tennis. She was the first to suggest that women’s tennis could be beautiful. Everything comes from her. And above all, she was more elegant than Lenglen. ”

Marguerite Broquedis died anonymously in Orléans in 1983 at the age of 90. On its page dedicated to Olympic medalists, the site of the French Tennis Federation has forgotten its title of 1912.

(1) Love Game: A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon (2014, untranslated).

Gilles Dhers



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