The story of Sunday – Suzanne Lenglen, from Picardy to the roof of world tennis, avant-garde feminist icon

Born in Paris on May 24, 1899, Suzanne Lenglen grew up in Marest-sur-Matz, where the family moved due to her poor health. Despite her condition, “la Divine” discovered tennis in the heart of the Oise before revolutionizing it by challenging the barriers linked to her status as a woman.

Fans of a famous Japanese manga that narrates the search for the future pirate king and his companions know this: sometimes, the will of a being is so great that it crosses the centuries. When the story doesn’t count to make his name disappear too. If many women with extraordinary destinies have been made invisible over the centuries, there is one, in the world of sport, that has reached everyone’s ear: that of Suzanne Lenglen.

Few know that the first major star of women’s tennis – and many others – reawakened her love for tennis and honed her ranges in Picardy. More precisely in Marest-sur-Matz, not far from Compiègne, where you lived for almost 20 years.

From a “ancient family of the Catholic and wealthy bourgeoisie from the north of France“, as the Woman from France in 1927, Suzanne Lenglen discovered tennis at the age of 11. This “racket per child at three francs fifty” AND “those deflated balls“offered by his father Charles Lenglen, on his return from the Compiègne market, marks the starting point of his future legend.

When he’s not walking on the tennis courts, he dives into the bed of the Matz, don’t hang around on horseback or bicycle, the pre-adolescent smashes balls daily beyond the white line – fiallow fictional – drawn on a wall of the family property.

All this under the watchful eye of a father, an assiduous athlete, who discovered his daughter’s exceptional predispositions very early on. Becoming his coach, they are the first duo father daughter renowned, long before Williams, the bartolithe Garcias or the Ruud.

This father figure is an essential cog in the extraordinary trajectory of Suzanne Lenglen, emphasizes Marion Philippe, teacher-researcher and professor of sport psychology. Gilles Lecocq shown (In Female sports practice. Social fate or individual choice1996) that the existence of a male figure, a father, a brother, an uncle, who exercises a form of guardianship and authorizes, indeed encourages, a woman in her family to practice the sport she desires, has played a determining role in the a sports career.

“From a child’s frame emerges the lithe body of a young faun. Chestnut curls, held back by velvet to brighten the eyes, sway in waves; the petticoat that stops above the knee beautifully reveals sinewy legs. His services are fiery His baffling defenses.”

Extract from a report by Jean Laporte for Femina, dated July 1, 1914

In July 1914, when the Lenglen open their privacy to journalists from femaleMiss TO 15 years. She has just been crowned world champion on clay in Saint-Cloud, one year after being crowned Picardy champion, two years after participating in her first tournament in Chantilly.

However, these accolades are just lines on the list of winners of an extraordinary career, capped by 241 titles. (including 2 Roland-Garros, 6 Wimbledon and 2 gold medals at the Olympic Games), for over 98% wins (341 games out of 348). A crazy record that quickly earned him the nickname: Divine. A nickname that it will supplant that of “Picardy”.

The first female professional player in history, the adopted Picardy marked her time as much with her style of play as with her cheeky humor and attitude.

Rackets broken in frustration, dead end of Cognac or Armagnac when switching teams at Wimbledon to fight against a slack – and win in the end -, refusal to play two matches on the same day while Queen Mary of the United Kingdom is in the stands. .. The anecdotes are just as crazy from those interwar years where the fate of the Divine is mixed up.

Suzanne Lenglen also fascinates chefsState. In February 1926, the “game of the century“, so qualified by the press, is its symbol starification.

The Isarian, opposite Helen willsthree-time US champion, performs in front of nearly 3,000 spectators. Among them, some very nice people: King Gustav V of Sweden, Suzanne’s regular companion, King Manuel II of Portugal, Prince George of Greece, the Duke of Westminster and Connaught or even the Maharaja of Kapurthalathe richest man in the world. Never seen !

Despite everything, the press still struggled to feminize the status of “champion”, as noted by Philippe Tétart until 1922-1923. It must be said that a profile like that of Suzanne clashes. An athlete, neither married nor mother, it is an understatement to say that she had nothing to do with the position of “formal woman” in which most women of the time were confined.

It goes against the grain of what was expected of a woman in the 1920s and 30s, at a time when sport was becoming institutionalised, thanks in particular to Alice Milliatcontextualizes Marion Philippe.

“The fact that she jumps, runs everywhere, decides to shorten her skirt for practical and performance reasons, it’s revolutionary. We’re going from women’s tennis to women’s tennis.”


teacher-researcher and professor of sport psychology

Suzanne Lenglen lived her life as she saw fit. Although she has not claimed to be a feminist, she is a symbol of women’s empowerment through sport, a feminist and sports icon of the 1920s and her influence has gone far beyond the sporting sphere., explains.

field side, TOBefore Suzanne Lenglen, there was a way of playing tennis, women’s tennis, which was different from men’s. Players had to show their femininity, wear makeup, wear long dresses, stay within the codes of their gender. The fact that she jumps, runs, decides to shorten her skirt for practical and performance reasons, is revolutionary. Let’s move from women’s tennis to women’s tennis, complete Marion Philippe.

Suzanne also inverts the codes with her style of dress. Dressed by the couturier Jean Patou, son of a family of tanners who settled in Picardy, she unravels between skimpy corsets that compress her opponents and she plays draped in a pleated skirt that bares the arms, calves and neckline. She frees herself fromold taboos of a pompous and corseted society, comment historians Jean-Jacques Becker and Serge Bernstein.

Thanks to this meeting, Jean Patou, also at the forefront, will also develop collections for sports and outdoor leisure. “Suzanne Lenglen spearheaded a fashion movement. Even men have seized this opportunity to take advantage of it, developing new collections to look for new customers., confirms the professor.

She adds: “Tennis was the perfect sport to start this snowball effect. It is a bourgeois sport, almost always practiced by women and men. The most popular classes are inspired and influenced by this model. It is also a sport that has suffered less than others from the speech ‘sport is dangerous for women’, ‘they will no longer be able to become mothers’.

Finally caught up in her frail health, Suzanne, suffering from leukemia, died prematurely on July 4, 1938, at the age of 39.

The Gazette of Biarritz, the Basque Country and the Landes then recounts the international excitement at the height of the icon that was: “The New York Times writes in an editorial: “It is difficult to contradict those who present Suzanne Lenglen as the greatest tennis player the world has ever known.” In an editorial, the Herald Tribune said: “Her playing was pure genius and has entitled him to be ranked alongside the best male players in the history of tennis. The sporting world is losing one of the most taller than her.’

Many consider its inception and success as the origin of the French tennis flight. No wonder she was the first to name a stadium at Roland-Garros after her. She also lends it to avenues, streets, all over the world, in France and inevitably, also, in Picardy as in Beauvais or Camon.

It is perhaps where the legend was built, in Marest-les-Maz, that its imprint has been most dissipated. “There are no more accessible material traces. The house and the wall she trained on still stand, but it has become a second home. It’s hard to tell people, ‘go knock, maybe you can take a picture’“, says Claire, secretary of the village hall and great admirer of the athlete.

The tribute court inaugurated in the city on May 20, 1993, in the presence of the cream of French tennis (Amélie Mauresmo, Françoise Dürr and Nathalie Tauzia), has “it was destroyed one, two years ago“.”It was in bad shape, continues. Due to the very clayey soil, it quickly shifted, cracked. We tried to fix it, but nothing helped and it was hardly used anymore. But I have carefully kept the inaugural plaque and some photos that Tennis Magazine had enlarged. What to preserve the myth.

Then, “Françoise Dürr and Tennis Magazine founder Jean Couvercelle live near Marest“, specifies Claire. Surprising? Not really. The history of Picardy and that of French tennis seem linked by a magnet as mysterious as it is powerful. The clay and plaster of Roland-Garros come from the quarries of the Oise (Saint- Maximin, Pontpoint) Amélie Mauresmo, best French since the Divine and now director of Roland-Garros, started out in Bornel, before taking her license in Méru, also in the Oise…

Suzanne Lenglen’s legacy irrigates Picardy at least as much as French sport… And her name will not be forgotten there.

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