Class of 2016
Grand Slam Results
4-time major champion, 2-time finalist
Member of the French Davis Cup Team 1937-1939, 1946-1947
Overall Record: 15-7
Singles Record: 11-3
Doubles Record: 4-4
The 1946 Wimbledon Gentlemen Final was a distinct contrast in playing styles, physique, and appearance. On one side of the grass stood Australia’s Geoffrey Edmund Brown, he of two-fisted groundstrokes from both sides, a spirited all-court game and the typical tennis apparel of the era — white shorts and polo shirt.
On the other side of the net stood 6-foot-7 Yvon Petra of France, a towering presence who played with efficient movements and despite his slim, lanky build, possessed astounding power. He donned a white driving cap and long white pants that remarkably didn’t interfere or impede his mobility, but rather enhanced his already graceful game.
In five well-played sets, Petra defeated his Aussie counterpart, but the outcome required he dig deep. After losing the first two sets 6–2, 6–4, Brown pulled out a clutch 9-7 win in the third and a steely 7-5 win in the fourth. With the match deadlocked, Petra raised his level, capitalized on an early break, and won the final set and championship, 6-4.
It was only fitting that after becoming the first Frenchman to win the Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles Championship in 19 years (Henri Cochet defeated compatriot Jean Borotra in the 1929 final 6-4, 6-3, 6-4), the then-30-year-old Petra easily leapt over the net to congratulate Brown. No French male tennis player has hoisted the Wimbledon trophy since Petra’s victory. Additionally, Petra was the last man to wear long pants when winning the championship on the hallowed grounds at the All-England Club.
From POW Camp to Wimbledon Champ
Fascinatingly, Petra’s victory in London came after being a prisoner of war in Germany. During World War II, Petra severely injured his left knee during battle between his French division and the Germans. “After the battle I was taken prisoner and I had to limp through a terrible POW march,” Petra told the Sarasota Journal on December 26, 1974. “My knee was completely out of order. I was operated on by a German surgeon, but my left leg remained feeble. I doubted I would ever get back on a tennis court.”
Born in Cholon, French Indochina (now Vietnam), Petra played as an amateur from 1935 until 1948, when he became a professional. His Grand Slam career wasn’t necessarily chockfull in volume of matches played, but it was successful. World War II halted all major competitions from 1940 to 1945, but at the 1946 French National Championships, Petra advanced to the semifinals, falling to countryman Marcel Bernard, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Petra advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Nationals Singles Championships three straight years (1936-1938) and played in the 1950 US Pro Championships. His singles legacy included winning national championships in France, Portugal, Belgium, and Spain. During World War II, France held the French Championships, but these tournaments were only open to French players and were played under Nazi rule. Petra won this tournament twice during that period (1943, 1944), but never achieved full-championship status due to its restrictions on entrants and its dark history.
Making A Mark In Doubles
The Wimbledon singles championship not withstanding, Petra made his Grand Slam mark in doubles, winning both the 1938 and 1946 French Championships alongside two different partners. Playing with Bernard Destremau in 1936, Petra earned a second major title with a huge victory over Americans Don Budge and Gene Mako, 3-6, 6-3, 9-7, 6-1. In 1946, Petra teamed with Marcel Bernard to defeat Argentina’s Enrique Morea and Ecuador’s Pancho Segura in a topsy-turvy marathon five-setter, 7-5, 6-3, 0-6, 1-6, 10-8.
Petra’s very first major championship came in mixed doubles at the 1937 French Championships, one of his strongest years playing on the doubles circuit. He teamed with compatriot Simonne Mathieu to defeat German Marie-Louise Horn and Frenchman Roland Journu, 7-5, 7-5. That same year, Petra and Mathieu advanced to the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles Championships – falling to Americans Alice Marble and Don Budge (6-4, 6-1) – and the U.S. National Championships, suffering a 2-6, 6-2, 8-10, 6-0 loss to Sarah Palfrey and Budge.
Post Tennis Teachings
Following his playing career, Petra became a teaching professional, making stops at the Saddle and Cycle Club in Chicago, the Woodway Country Club in Darien, Connecticut, and The Key Club on Siesta Key in Florida.
French Championships SF 1946
Wimbledon W 1946
French Championships W 1938, 1946
Wimbledon QF 1947
U.S. Nationals QF 1936, 1937, 1938
French Championships W 1937
Wimbledon F 1937
U.S. Nationals F 1937