Certainly it helped that he’d grown up playing on clay. Certainly it helped that he’d built a penetrating topspin backhand in an era when that was a rarity. Certainly it helped that as a teenager he’d spent the bulk of a spring and summer in Europe, growing comfortable with the language, the customs, the people – and, yes, the treacherous terra battue of Roland Garros. “It’s not so easy to play,” he said years later, “when you’re even distracted by figuring out how to order a meal.”
All these certainties made American Tony Trabert a force to be reckoned with on the dirt. At 19, partnered with his mentor, Bill Talbert, he’d won the doubles at the 1950 French Championships (the tournament’s title prior to becoming the French Open in 1968). Four years later, he won the singles at Roland Garros for the first time, dropping just one set along the way. On this day in 1955, Trabert was once again in the finals, his opponent, a savvy Swede, Sven Davidson. Though Davidson won the first set 6-2, Trabert rapidly took control, his all-court game in command as he won the next three, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. Trabert that year would go on to win Wimbledon and the US Championships, each without the loss of a set.
Though of course he hadn’t intended it, Trabert soon entered the tennis lexicon as a trivia question: Who was the last American man to win the Roland Garros singles title? This held true for 34 years. Not until Michael Chang’s win in 1989 did another American man raise the La Coupe des Mousquetaires.
(with thanks to Randy Walker and Mikki Singh for their app, On This Day in Tennis History)
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