The Roland Garros Final Played Drunk -
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old Feb 21st, 2017, 01:38 AM Thread Starter
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The Roland Garros Final Played Drunk

A version of this story comes from the book "The Goddess and the American Girl".

This version comes from Sid Wood himself, the drunk in question.

from: The Roland Garros final played drunk! | World Tennis Magazine

The Roland Garros final played drunk!

It has been revealed that a Wimbledon champion played a final at the French Championships while drunk. The player is Sidney Wood, the Wimbledon champion in 1931, who, unexpectedly and forcibly found himself inebriated. Wood tells the tale – one of many stranger-than-fiction stories – in his posthumously-released memoir called “THE WIMBLEDON FINAL THAT NEVER WAS ($15.95, New Chapter Press,, released this month.
The book details the life and times of Wood with a focus on one of the most unusual episodes ever in sport when he won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in a default – the only time in the history of The Championships that the men’s singles final was not played. Wood, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 97, tells the story of how he won the title over Frank Shields, his school buddy, doubles partner, roommate and Davis Cup teammate – and the grandfather of actress and model Brooke Shields – when Shields was ordered by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) to withdraw from the final to rest his injured knee in preparation for an upcoming Davis Cup match for the United States. He then discusses his “private understanding playoff” that saw his match with Shields at the Queen’s Club tournament final in London three years later be played for the Wimbledon trophy. Wood, who could be called the greatest story teller tennis ever had, also relates fascinating anecdotes and stories that involve famous personalities from Hollywood and across the globe. The excerpt that details Wood’s inebriated final-round effort is found below.

At the age of 13, I was so skinny that of all the young hopefuls at the Berkeley Tennis Club in California, I was the only one who could stick his hand through the hole of the tennis ball discard box and squeeze out the most luscious of the slightly-used spheres. Although the box was a repository for donations to the YMCA and other worthy causes, I recall having no qualms about providing for myself and my fellow teeners.
My clear conscience may have been the result of long unrequited services as ball boy to the lady world champion, Helen Wills, later Helen Wills Moody. “Queen Helen,” a media title that her unbroken string of victories well merited, never had to worry where her next tennis ball was coming from, and it never dawned on her how desperately I coveted even one out of the half dozen that she would use for every practice session. The discards were always good enough to have their Spalding or Wilson names still visible on the felt, and to any sub-junior who has played a lot of sets with only the rubber undercover remaining, they were precious pearls. Six years later as the previous year’s Wimbledon winner, in one of those stranger-than-fiction tales, I found myself as Helen’s requested mixed doubles partner for the French Championships in Paris. Alas, however, for “reasons beyond my control,” our French title victory was denied by Napoleon…Napoleon brandy, that is.

The afternoon of our mixed final, I first had to meet the rock-steady René Lacoste in singles, losing to him in an unreal five-and-a-quarter-hour, five-set grueller on a searing, 98-degree afternoon (one of the longest matches ever played in fact). Afterwards, we were laid out on adjoining locker room tables, and in seconds the cramps were jumping all over us.

They hit me everywhere, the worst of my life. As René and I writhed and groaned, Fred Moody, Helen’s husband, appeared with a pair of double Courvoisiers, Fred’s remedy for many ailments. He carefully trickled one down my throat, but René, an abstemious Prometheus to the end, turned his down, and Fred dosed me with that one, also.

Then, in walks Pierre Gillou, the tournament’s referee and head of everything tennis in France, all hands and shrugs, to announce that despite his minutes’ earlier assurance (before my brandy medication) that the mixed doubles final had been rescheduled for the next day, it was now to be played immediately. Queen Helen, at that point in her life, was the most self-centered of champions imaginable, as well as being every tournament’s prime meal ticket whose every wish was a royal command. In America, she was every bit as famous as Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey, and internationally more so. Possibly Helen was unaware that René and I had barely made it off the court on our own legs (and certainly of my brandy-benumbed condition). In any case, Gillou said she flatly refused to play the ladies’ singles and mixed finals on the same, next day for fear of being overtired before Wimbledon’s opening day, two weeks later, and Gillou capitulated.

After five humidity-draining sets, you have no idea how even a short snort can hit you, and I was now feeling no pain and ready to joust with Bill Tilden, Henri Cochet and Fred Perry, all at the same time. So, with no one around with enough sense or initiative to restrain me from doing something idiotic, I told Gillou I’d be on the court in minutes. I then headed for the locker room and, as I was struggling into my long gabardines, I conceived the brilliant idea of inserting two Dunlop tire ashtrays under my belt to support my undulating midriff muscles.

Thus accoutered, I descended to the pit where Fred Perry and Betty Nuthall were our intended victims. Also on hand was a stadium-packed gallery (the bleachers were always jammed for Helen). At net, rallying with Betty, I was not encouraged to see more than one ball coming at me at the same time, and it seemed best to select one to hit and let the others pass. Knowing me as a serious competitor, Betty no doubt assumed that I was clowning a bit – for which I was also known. But my pal Perry, who couldn’t believe I was still standing after my marathon, came up to net to ask if I were okay. I said, “I’m smashed,” and retreated to the baseline to try a few serves.

My muscles were no less done in, only anesthetized by Mr. Moody’s two double shots, and when I tried to toss up one of the three balls, it wouldn’t come loose. The ball stuck in my fingers and I could not put up a toss to hit a serve. We had won the toss and I told Helen she would have to serve first, and it was 0-3 when I finally had to step up and serve. Amazingly, the ball left my hand, made contact with my racquet and actually landed in its intended service box. Heading for net, I felt a little bump on my shoe and observed one of the ashtrays that had dislodged itself, dropped down my trousers and was rolling along with me. Play was called by the umpire to remove the alien object. To my best recollection, some contact was made with the shots that came my way, but in a very short time we lost the match.

The inexcusably stupid part of my gaff was that even at age 20, with no real idea of what too much liquor could do to my coordination, something should have warned me on my own before my getting out on the court – certainly when I was seeing double – that I should get the hell out of there, no matter the consequences.

Visit us at the Blast From The Past: Where Tennis History Lives!

Last edited by Rollo; Feb 22nd, 2017 at 04:12 PM.
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old Feb 21st, 2017, 11:47 PM
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Re: The Roland Garros Final Played Drunk

Amateur! Mr. Wood has nothing on Gerulaitis! Although I must admit the ashtrays in his pants and their subsequent escape is a nice touch. Shame that there's no video. Wonder if Little Miss Poker Face kept her famed deadpan expression.
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old Feb 24th, 2017, 11:28 PM
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Re: The Roland Garros Final Played Drunk

Did Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall not also play a French final drunk? Or at least they spent the whole night boozing together and then went straight to Roland Garros to play their singles final. Pretty sure it was a pair of Australians and it was at the French...

... And of course Suzanne Lenglen used to knock back the brandy on the French clay as well...
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old Feb 25th, 2017, 07:11 PM
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Re: The Roland Garros Final Played Drunk

I think many of the vintage Aussie doubles teams were as tight as owls or needed something to make their heads feel smaller when they played.

Lore has it that Hoad stayed up drinking all night before the 1956 French Championships singles final. Apparently Rod Laver then stepped in to get Lew in fighting shape. Useful chap, that Laver.

And Crawford when trying to complete the first Grand Slam was reportedly nobbled by a beverage of some potency.

The ladies were usually either more restrained or more discreet. One of the few modern era examples was at the 1992 Federation Cup meet in Frankfurt, Germany. In between the QF and SF matches, Steffi decided she wanted to go to a concert in Vienna, Austria, and she took the rest of the team with her. When asked about FC later on in the year, Steffi had no recollection of blitzing Lori McNeil 6-0, 6-3 in the semi, but whether this is due to a simple case of "You can't expect me to remember every time I trounce an American on clay!" or mere sleep deprivation or something a little more juicy is unknown. Produced one of the best FC trophy photos, though. Kudos to Hofsäss, the German team coach, for ignoring whatever was going on around him.
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old Feb 27th, 2017, 05:37 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The Roland Garros Final Played Drunk

This article is about rural australian tennis in the 1960s, but it supports what Mrs A was writing.

The bit bit about fainting on the court is -er-interesting...

Remembering some great long weekends of tennis

May 27, 2016

John Wearne’s recollections of some memorable June Long Weekend tennis tournaments and the people who played in those matches began on May 11. His memories are continued here.

We soon went from the Vince Dobb/Eric Parsons standard up to a new level with the arrival of Gordon Bowen. Gordon won the singles a number of times until unseated by Peter Emmerson.

When Peter entered the tournament we were impressed that he was the famous Roy Emerson’s cousin (though their surnames were spelt differently) but didn’t know too much more about his ability. To be safe, we seeded him 7th and as a result he met Gordon in the quarter finals. There was no doubting that this was the real final, and Peter prevailed. The list of good players grew and grew. In one tournament, leading state player Fred Sherriff went out in the first round. He was the winner of titles all over NSW, but went down to that excellent Walcha player Neville Holstein. Fred never returned.

A conga line of great men players graced this era – Rodney Brent, Fred Sherriff, Ted Mcquillan (Father Of Top Player Rachel Mcquillan), Peter Emmerson. Max Schaeffer, Neville Holstein, John And Graham Moseley, Gerry O’Connor, Vince Dobb, Eric Parsons, Neville Shaw, Bob Jolly, Stuart Bowen and the best of them all, Geoff Pollard.…….the list goes on and on. And the girls? Jill Blackman (Emmerson), Elizabeth Fenton, Meryl Jones (Brent), Noeline Turner, Margaret Mclean, Gay Rose……all top players.

It helps spell out the standard if you consider that Geoff Pollard represented Australia in the Junior Davis Cup at Miami playing number 2 behind John Newcombe and ahead of another left hander who was quite useful – Tony Roche.

Ted Mcquillan, runner-up at Bingara one year behind Rodney Brent, in successive years at the Northumberland Open at Newcastle put out John Newcombe and Spanish Davis Cup player Juan Gisbert in the first round.
My rankings for the best players to play here would be – 1. Geoff Pollard, 2. Rodney Brent, 3. Peter Emmerson, 4. John Moseley, 5. Gordon Bowen. I’m sure that would get plenty of debate!
There were some hilarious times………

Once, in the old club, signs were evident of a big party brewing on the Monday night when the tournament was finished. Club President Alan Stehr gave strict instructions to Secretary Ossie Ritter to close the club at 10pm sharp. When hearing this, someone found Ossie a very comfortable chair by the fire and issued him with a number of quick sweet sherrys. Result? – oblivion. When Ossie finally came to it was 4am, freezing cold outside, and there were still 40 people in the club, which by then resembled a pigsty.

On another occasion, I was umpiring the ladies singles final on the second court while the final of the men’s doubles was on court one.

Neville Shaw was involved in the doubles while his girlfriend of the time was playing next door in the singles final. Needless to say, the two had partied hard all weekend.

When Nev’s girlfriend fainted on the court half way through the second set, the doctor, local GP Frank Hollinshead, was extracted from his usual position behind the two-bob poker machine to see to the patient.
It was even more appropriate that Frank and Nev were great mates. The diagnosis took place at courtside, and by this time Nev had sought leave from the doubles to show some interest next door.
When Nev finally weakened enough to ask Frank – “What is it, Doc? , he received the reply – “its eight-hour pregnancy!”

I remember Geoff Pollard (later to be International Lawn Tennis President, if you please) and Geoff Sweetman doing a skit at the Sunday night concert that involved them both in their “ budgie smugglers” in a small bathtub singing “Rubber Ducky”. I remember Ron Brogan’s annual Johnny Ray impersonations that seemed to go on for hours, and probably did.

The country tennis tournaments in those days usually involved trips to Burren Junction and Barraba as well, and TED SPARKE and I also played at the Northumberland Tournament in Newcastle to reciprocate. They were great days indeed.

Visit us at the Blast From The Past: Where Tennis History Lives!
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