Borotra: The Least-Known Musketeer

Throughout the French Open fortnight, hardly an hour passes with mention of the famed four French Musketeers. Their victory over Bill Tilden and the United States in the 1927 Davis Cup Challenge Round – that brought the Davis Cup to France for the first time – necessitated the construction of Roland Garros stadium for the 1928 Davis Cup Challenge Round and eventually for the French Championships. Their success and domination of tennis in the late 1920s and early 1930s was a major reason why the French Championships achieved its status as one of the four major championships in tennis – the national championships of the first four nations to win the Davis Cup – the U.S., Britain (Wimbledon), Australia and France – were recognized as “the majors.” The French Open men’s singles trophy is also called the “Coupe de Mosquetaires” and the area between Court Chatrier and Court No. 1 is called the “Place des Mosquetaires” with statues of all four champions. Many people are quite aware of Rene Lacoste, the most famous of the Musketeers due to his major titles and his well-known Lacoste sports brand, Henri Cochet and Jean Borotra are the next most famous of the “Fab Four” for their singles victories in majors. But what of Jacques Brugnon – the least known of the four? Bud Collins, in his upcoming book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS (order for 39 percent off by clicking here), profiles “Toto” Brugnon, the oldest of the four great champions.

Jacques “Toto” Brugnon was the elder of France’s celebrated Four Musketeers who won the Davis Cup in 1927 from the U.S., and kept it six years. He preceded the other three – Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, RenĂ© Lacoste – as an internationalist, playing first on the Cup team in 1921. A master at doubles, he won Wimbledon four times, 1926 and 1928 with Cochet and 1932 and 1933 with Borotra, and appeared in three other finals. He won the French five times, three with Cochet, two with Borotra, and the Australian with Borotra, plus two French mixed for a dozen major titles.

Although doubles expertise overshadowed his singles, the small (5-foot-6, 139 pounds), neatly mustachioed and courtly, Toto had many fine moments alone. He was ranked world Nos. 10 and 9 in 1926 and 1927, golden years for the French: They were 40 percent of the Top 10, his fellow Musketeers occupying places in the first four, Lacoste at No. 1. In his greatest singles moment, his clever volleying took him to the Wimbledon semis of 1926 and five times a match point away from joining Borotra in the championship round. American Bob Kinsey got away from him, though, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 9-7, slipping from 4-5, 15-40, and 5-6,15-40 and ad out in the last set. Wallis Myers, the connoisseur, wrote: “Brugnon is a player of rare stroke variety and delicacy of touch.” He was a quarterfinalist in 1927, and stands fourth among all male Wimbledonians in wins with 129: 37-19 in singles, 69-16 in doubles, 23-16 in mixed.

His Davis Cup career ran 11 years, and he had a hand in four of the Cup triumphs as a right-handed left-court player. For a time, he was a teaching professional in California. He was born May 11, 1895, in Paris, and died there March 20, 1978.

MAJOR TITLES (12) — Australian doubles, 1928; French doubles, 1927-28, 30, 32, 34; Wimbledon doubles, 1926, 28, 32-33; French mixed, 1925-26. DAVIS CUP — 1921, 23-24-25-26-27,30-31-32-33-34, 4-2 singles, 22-9 doubles. SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS — Australian (1-1), French (21-13), Wimbledon (37-19), U.S. (12-11).