December 25, 1942: the day Françoise Dürr was born
On December 25, 1942, Françoise Dürr was born, one of the greatest French tennis players in history. Discover a little more about her and particularly the atypical technique she had.
On that day, December 25, 1942, Françoise Dürr, nicknamed “Frankie”, one of the few French women to have won Roland Garros, was born in Algiers. Famous for her unorthodox technique as well as her fighting spirit, she triumphed at the French Open in 1967, and remained the last French woman to do so for the next 33 years, when Mary Pierce won in 2000. She also took part in the creation of the WTA and the first women’s professional circuits. She is one of the most outstanding players of the 1960s and 1970s.
Françoise Dürr, the Frenchwoman with an atypical style of play
Françoise Dürr had one of the most interesting techniques ever seen in top-level tennis. According to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, her serve is “so slow that it might not even be picked up by radar”, she held her racquet with her index finger along the handle.
Her strangest shot was certainly her backhand, which she played with her wrist bent, her grip sometimes forcing her to put her knee down to hit the ball in good conditions. Dürr herself explained to the WTA:
Since I started playing without a coach, I developed an unacademic grip.Françoise Dürr
“Since I started playing without a coach, I developed an unacademic grip by placing my index finger flat on the shaft. Later, when I had a coach, he tried to correct that, but it was too late. My backhand, with the wrist bent, was one of my best shots because no one could really anticipate where I was going to play.”
Dürr’s strength lay above all in her great physical condition, with outstanding footwork, good sense of play and mental strength. She fought on every point, brought every ball home, and her variations often made her opponents crack.
“My greatest strengths are my physique and tenacity,” she often explains.
Françoise Dürr’s career landmarks
A winner of Roland Garros at the junior level, she began to travel around the world with her racquets two years later at the age of 20. The best French player of her time, she achieved her first notable international results in 1965, winning her first tournament in Hilversum (at the expense of Edda Buding, 9-11, 7-5, 6-4), and reaching the quarter-finals of all major tournaments except Wimbledon.
Her career culminated at Roland Garros in 1967, when she won in front of her home crowd against Australia’s Lesley Turner (4-6, 6-3, 6-4).
I had to fight to the end because I might not get another chance to play another Grand Slam final.Françoise Dürr
“She was a tough girl. So I had a tactic: get to the net as soon as possible because, from the bottom of the net, she threw everything back, a bit like Chris Evert,” she told Roland Garros Magazine one day. In this final, Dürr once again demonstrated her mental toughness, winning the last set after being behind 4-2.
“While I was on the court, I remembered what my coach told me: I had to fight to the end because I might not get another chance to play another Grand Slam final.”
She was the first Frenchwoman to triumph in Paris since Nelly Adamson in 1948, and the next would be Mary Pierce in 2000. She also won the doubles title, teaming up with Gail Sherriff. The same year, she reached the semi-finals of the US Nationals, the forerunner of the US Open, where she was defeated by Billie Jean King (6-2, 6-4).
During the Open Era, travelling with her dog named “Topspin”, her best attempts to add a second Grand Slam title to her record of achievements all came to a halt in the semi-finals. She reached a Slam semi-final on three further occasions, losing to King at Wimbledon in 1970 and then to Evonne Goolagong and Chris Evert at Roland Garros in 1972 and 1973.
Over the course of her career, Dürr won 16 singles titles and 65 doubles titles, including seven Grand Slams, as well as four major titles in mixed doubles.
I remember standing at the entrance of a supermarket in Detroit with Billie Jean King and Betty Stove handing out free tickets!Françoise Dürr
Dürr was one of the first players to sign a professional contract along with Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals and Ann Jones in George MacCall’s National Tennis League. She then joined the first Virginia Slims Tour in 1971, and in 1973 she became co-founding secretary of the WTA.
“We started the Virginia Slims Tour with 16 players and no substitute players in case of illness. I remember standing at the entrance of a supermarket in Detroit with Billie Jean King and Betty Stove handing out free tickets! “she recalls in an interview for the WTA.
What next : an executive for the French Federation
At the end of her career, Françoise Dürr was appointed Technical Director of Women’s Tennis at the French Tennis Federation in 1993.
“Back in France, I was offered a job at the FFT, to be in charge of women’s tennis (1993-2002) and captain of the Fed Cup,” she said. “In 1997, as co-captain with Yannick Noah, we won the first Fed Cup in French history.”