Class of 1976
Singles: World No. 2 (1926)
Doubles: World No. 1 (1925)
Grand Slam Results
21-time major champion, 9-time finalist
Bronze Medal in Men’s Doubles at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games (with Rene Lacoste)
Member of the French Davis Cup Team 1922-1937, 1947
Member of the French Championship Davis Cup Team 1927-1932
Overall Record: 36-18
Singles Record: 19-12
Doubles Record: 17-6
In its obituary of Jean Borotra, The Independent compared his matches to “theatrical productions.” His game, which produced 21 major championships in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, was one-part tennis brilliance and one-part drama. It has been chronicled that Borotra had a flair for the unusual – on wide shots he’d tumbled into the stands and kiss the hands of female spectators. In best 3-of-5 sets, he’d bring five natty blue or black berets and rotate the hats at critical moments in the match. He chatted with fans, played unevenly during parts of matches, then flicked a switch, and was masterful. His antics would fuel his game, but aggravate his opponents. In his 1948 autobiography, longtime rival Bill Tilden wrote that Borotra was “the god of galleries and devil of the players.”
Borotra was a whirlwind on court. He played the game at a frenetic pace – diving, tumbling, jumping – a 1920s version of German Boris Becker. His energetic approach to tennis earned him the nickname, “The Bounding Basque,” and he was adored for his eclectic brand of tennis worldwide. He was the most volatile and most fashionable member of the famed “Four Musketeers,” joining the unique collection of personalities in René Lacoste, Jacques Brugnon, and Henri Cochet on the French Davis Cup team that won the championship six straight years from 1927 to 1932, defeating the United States five times. Borotra won 36 of his 54 Davis Cup matches.
Borotra was born in Biarritz, in the heart of French Basque country. At 6-foot-1, 160 pounds he was handsome and debonair, his showmanship on court adding to his rock-star like stature. He exuded all the principles of all-court tennis, but he was a hard-charging player who used his legs to his advantage. He wasn’t a serve-and-volleyer in the purest sense, certainly not like Becker, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, or Stefan Edberg, but Borotra loved getting to net and punctuate points with crisp volleys. In an online article on Borotra published by independent sports website The Classical, legendary champion Fred Perry remarked, “[He] came in behind [his serve] so fast that the ball almost hit him on the back of the head.”
The acrobatic showman won four major singles titles, taking Wimbledon in 1924 and 1926, the place where he earned his nickname. He did not have an easy go in 1924, four of his first five rounds going the distance, and the final against compatriot Lacoste forced him into a feisty five-setter that Borotra won, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. He advanced to the 1925 final against Lacoste, but the results were flipped, his Davis Cup teammate prevailing, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 8-6. In 1926 Borotra only had one five-set match to test his energy, and a straightforward 8-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over American Howard Kinsey in the final.
In 1928 Borotra earned the third of five major titles, outstanding Aussie Jack Cummings to win the Australian Championships, 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3. Borotra won the 1924 French Nationals over Lacoste, 7-5, 6-4, 0-6, 5-7, 6-2, but the title doesn’t count toward his major total since the event was only open to French players. He did win the championship in 1931, defeating countryman Christian Boussus, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. He was denied the opportunity to earn a career singles major at the U.S. Championships in 1926, losing to Lacoste, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4. The rivalry between those two was intense: In six finalist appearances, Lacoste defeated Borotra four times (French in 1925, Wimbledon in 1925, US Open in 1926). Fellow Musketeer Cochet nabbed him twice (Wimbledon in 1927 and 1929).
Borotra won ten major doubles titles, every one with a Frenchman, and five titles played in Paris. He and Lacoste captured the French in 1924, 1925, and 1929; he paired with Brugnon in 1928 and 1934, and with Marcel Bernard in 1936. He won Wimbledon in 1925 with Lacoste, and with Brugnon in 1932 and 1933. He and Brugnon won the Australian in 1928. In doubles competition, Borotra got his money’s worth of court time -- seven of his major doubles titles went five sets. Six additional titles were earned in mixed doubles (three French, one Australian, Wimbledon, and U.S. National), all but two with a different partner. The most riveting of those doubles matches was Wimbledon in 1925 when the partnership with the flamboyant Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen led to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over American Elizabeth Ryan and Italian Uberto de Morpurgo.
In 1933 Borotra said that “being part of the Musketeers was one of my greatest joys, we had a marvelous camaraderie.” Borotra’s biggest triumph as part of the French Davis Cup team for 25 years came in 1932 against a strong United States team. A year earlier Borotra had announced his retirement, a proclamation he would later rescind, but when Lacoste became ill prior to the final, Borotra was yanked from sideline. At age 34 he defeated Ellsworth Vines in straight sets and in the deciding match rallied from 2-0 sets down – saving four matches points – to defeat Wilmer Allison and provide France with a huge 3-2 victory. It would be the nation’s last championship for 59 years. Appropriately, all Four Musketeeers were inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame together in 1976.
Borotra’s international resume includes winning a Bronze Medal in doubles with Lacoste at the 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris.
During the World War II, Borotra served as a captain in the French army. He was taken prisoner on two occasions, (France, 1940; Germany, 1942), both times escaping, which only enhanced his mystique.
In 1998, Wimbledon’s International Club created the Jean Borotra CQS Sportsmanship trophy, which features a lunging Borotra. Past winners include Edberg, Chris Evert, Todd Martin, Maria Bueno, Pat Rafter, Kim Clijsters, Gustavo Kuerten, Mats Wilander, and Roger Federer. Each of the Four Musketeers has a statue on the ground at Roland Garros, Borotra’s depicts him leaping for an overhead.
His biography, Jean Borotra: The Bounding Basque, was published in 1973.
Australian Championships: W 1928
French Championships: W 1924, 1931
Wimbledon: W 1924, 1926
U.S. Nationals: F 1926
Australian Championships: W 1928
French Championships: W 1924, 1925, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1936
Wimbledon: W 1925, 1932, 1933
U.S. Nationals: SF 1922
Australian Championships: W 1928
French Championships: W 1924, 1927, 1934
Wimbledon: W 1925
U.S. Nationals: W 1926