Legends From the Past: Henri Cochet

Henri Jean Cochet was born in Lyon, France on December 14, 1901, the city where he would see his first taste of tennis due to his father working as a secretary at the local club. Cochet would attend the club and be a ball boy on a regular basis, thus earning himself the nickname "The Ball Boy of Lyon." On the very same courts that he acted as a ball boy, he practiced to improve his own game and in 1921, he set off to Paris to enter a tournament where he met and beat Jean Borotra in the final.

Les Quatre Mousquetaires

Thanks to such fine performances, the two of them were selected for the French Davis Cup team the following year, where they became friends with both René Lacoste and Jacques Brugnon, these four Frenchmen would come to be known as Les Quatre Mousquetaires ("The Four Musketeers"). They were all part of many Davis Cup winning teams for the French as they won the prestigious event six straight times between 1927 and 1932. Given this team achievement and all of their individual triumphs, they were all inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976.

Henri Cochet's Achievements

Cochet's individual accolades were also plentiful. He has seven grand slam victories to his name; four of which occurred on home soil in the French Championships, two took place in London at Wimbledon, and his final major triumph took place at the U.S. Championships. Besides his major individual victories, he also won eight doubles grand slams.

It was at the U.S. Championships where he shot to international fame when he toppled six-time reigning champion and legend of the sport, Bill Tilden, in the 1926 quarterfinals. Regardless of this victory, it would pale in comparison to what he would achieve one year later at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon, 1927

When Cochet arrived in London for the championships, he would’ve had little idea of the legacy he would leave behind for himself. It all began in the quarterfinals when he was trailing by two sets to future Hall of Famer Francis Hunter, and yet the No. 4 seed Cochet would manage to rally back and claim the last three sets and run out the victor, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Then, in the semis, he would once again slay Bill Tilden, but this time it was in a more heroic fashion as he was two sets down, yet again, and 3 points away from being ousted. However, Cochet dug deep and somehow won the next 17 points and from there, he went on the achieve the seemingly impossible, or at least the highly improbable, the final score being 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, 6-3.

The small Frenchmen (5'6" and 145 lbs) had been overpowered by Tilden in the first two sets and trailed 5-1 in the third set, but a new Cochet come to the fore and he began to take risks and hit the ball early in order to overcome his adversary, the world No. 1 at the time and widely considered the best player ever by his contemporaries. In many ways, this match could've been seen as a changing of the guard considering Cochet would go onto occupy the world No. 1 spot from 1928-30.

After having battled his way to the final, one would suspect that he would be troubled by fatigue, and he may well have been has he struggled early on and fell behind by two sets. By this time, however, it had surely become common ground for the French battler. Jean Borotra, Cochet's opponent, even had 6 match points, but Cochet repelled them all and eventually went onto win, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-5. Cochet was the last person to win a Wimbledon final after being two sets down. It's little wonder that the International Tennis Hall of Fame has affectionately named him Henri Houdini.

This is the first article in what will hopefully be a series of articles on past players. Want more stories like this? Let us know in the comments.

Comments and Conversation

April 11, 2011

Mert Ertunga:


What a fantastic choice to present us Monsieur Cochet! I love it. He also co-authored with a friend, one of the first “tennis” novels in the century, i remember seeing an old edition at some bookstore few years back..


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