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April 1, 1987: The day tennis legend Henri Cochet passed away at the age of 85
Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1987 to pay tribute to one of the legendary French Musketeers, Henri Cochet, a seven-time Grand Slam champion who led his country to six consecutive Davis Cup titles
Henri Cochet: The Early Years
Henri Cochet was born in Lyon in 1901. His father worked at the local tennis club, and this was how young Henri began playing at the age of 8, practicing with his friends when the courts were unoccupied.
Henri began winning his first tournaments in 1920, and made himself famous the following year, when, a complete unknown in the capital city, he won the Paris Indoor National Championships, defeating another newcomer in the final named Jean Borotra. It was with the same Borotra, along with René Lacoste and Jacques Brugnon, that Cochet would form one of the most famous Davis Cup teams of all-time, known as “the Four Musketeers”.
Nicknamed “the Magician” in his home country, Cochet was considered as one of the most gifted players of his time. In his History of Tennis, Bud Collins wrote that “a racket in his hand became a wand of magic, doing the impossible, most often in a position of the court considered untenable, and doing it with nonchalant ease and fluency”.
After his surprising triumph in Paris in 1921, Cochet won his first big international tournament in 1922 in Brussels, where he triumphed at singles, doubles and mixed doubles (the latter with French legend Suzanne Lenglen). It was also the year of his Davis Cup debut and of his first appearance at Wimbledon. However, as he opened a sports shop in 1923, Cochet had to take a few steps back from tennis for a couple of years; but that didn’t prevent him from clinching two silver medals at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Henri Cochet: The Peak Years
The Frenchman’s career peaked from 1926 to 1932. In 1926, he won the French Championships for the first time, defeating his Davis Cup teammate Lacoste, in the final (6-2, 6-4, 6-3). Later, in the quarter-finals of the US Championships at Forest Hills, Cochet achieved the feat of defeating the great Bill Tilden, the six-time defending champion (6-8, 6-1, 6-3, 1-6, 8-6). However, he was eliminated in the following round by Lacoste despite a two-set lead (6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3).
In 1927, not only did Cochet add another major title to his list of achievements by winning Wimbledon, but he did it while achieving a unique feat: in his three last matches, the Frenchman came back from two-sets-to-love down to defeat Frank Hunter, Bill Tilden and Jean Borotra. During his semi-final clash with Tilden, Cochet was not only down two sets, but he was also trailing 5-1 in the third, before he finally prevailed (2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3). In the final, Cochet set another unmatched record, saving off no less than eight match points against Borotra; which has never happened in any Grand Slam final in the following 95 years.
In total, Cochet accumulated seven major titles at singles (the French Championships in 1926, 1928, 1930 and 1932, Wimbledon in 1927 and 1929, and the US Championships in 1928), five at doubles, as well as three in mixed doubles. He was considered as the world No 1 amateur player from 1928 to 1930.
The Davis Cup achievements
Despite these great results, Cochet would remain more famous in tennis history for his Davis Cup achievements. As part of the Four Musketeers, Cochet led his team to six consecutive titles in the annual men’s tennis team competition. After their first triumph in 1927, with their popularity growing in France, the stadium of Roland-Garros was even built specially to host the 1928 Challenge Round. The French team remained undefeated until 1933, defeating the United States five times (1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932) and Great Britain in 1931.
Turning pro and then back to amateur status
In 1933, Cochet turned professional, signing a contract with the Tilden Tennis Tour. He spent most of the following years touring around the world, his two main rivals being Tilden and Ellsworth Vines. He clinched one major professional title along the way, winning the French Pro at Roland-Garros in 1936.
After World War II, Cochet would become an amateur once again and continued competing until 1958, mostly in doubles, before retiring once and for all at the age of 56.
Cochet was induced into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976 and was appointed honorary president of the French Tennis Federation. He passed away on April 1, 1987, at the age of 85.