In an era whose sports figures included a Galloping Ghost, a Manassa Mauler and a Sultan of Swat, Jean Borotra was known as the Bounding Basque. Together with Henri Cochet, René Lacoste and Jacques Brugnon, he dominated international tennis for France from 1927 to 1933. The Frenchmen won the Davis Cup and kept it six years; they won the men's singles at Wimbledon six times running and they took three outdoor and five indoor singles titles in the U.S. Their championship days passed, finally, and no other young Frenchmen rose to replace them.
Meanwhile, the Sultan of Swat and others abode their destined hours and went their ways, and the Bounding Basque went right on playing tennis. He plays it still and is almost as resilient as ever. In the recent U.S. championships at Forest Hills, M. Borotra, now a lean and lively 58, reached the semifinals in the senior men's singles, where the top-seeded Phil Hanna beat him. A little earlier, in Brookline, Mass., Borotra and Harry Hopman of Australia won the senior men's doubles.
"I hadn't planned to play," Borotra explained the other day, "but friends in the USLTA heard that I would be here on business about the middle of September. They wrote and asked me to come earlier and play in the Nationals. They said, 'Jean, you played here for our 50th anniversary in 1931, and now we want you for our 75th.'"
Someone suggested that Borotra might still be playing on the USLTA's 100th anniversary in 1981 (he would then be 83). But Borotra says no. "Absolutely not. That would be too much to ask of the good Lord. He has been very generous with me already."
Borotra credits his 30 years of top-grade tennis to the fact that he has taken care of the faculties nature gave him. "I haven't been out of training since 1920.I live in Paris, and every day but Sunday I get up at 7:30, put on a pair of shorts and do a series of exercises in my bedroom. Then I step out on my balcony (I can see both the Arch of Triumph and the Sacré Coeur from it) and do another series. Even in rain or snow—even at zero degrees! Fahrenheit!
"After the exercises a shower and a big American breakfast: dry cereal perhaps, grapefruit with lots of sugar, bacon and eggs, toast with butter and marmalade. My friends say, 'How can you do it?' To them breakfast still means nothing more than a croissant and café au lait. The routine is the same on Sundays, except that I get up at 8.
"I eat nothing between meals. At 11 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon my secretary brings me a big glass of water, which I drink. Three days a week I play tennis for an hour, and that's about all there is to it. I gave up smoking in World War I on the day I joined the army, and I never drink anything alcoholic but good French wines.
"Of course," he shrugged, "if your hostess offers you a hundred-year-old brandy, it would be foolish to refuse. That is one of life's experiences and is not to be missed. But I only take a little."
This is Borotra's 40th trip to the United States, and on every one of them he has played some tennis. (In 1948, at the age of 50, he played so well that he and Marcel Bernard won the U.S. indoor doubles championship from William Talbert and Frank Shields.) Most of his visits, however, were primarily business trips. His business, he says, is "gasoline pumps, the same as always. When I first came here, back in the 1920s, I looked around and saw filling stations everywhere. There were not many in France then, so I went home and entered the pump business. (I had a degree in engineering from the Ecole Poly technique.) We made good pumps, and I have sold them all over the world. My business has let me travel, and it has let me play tennis. I don't let tennis interfere with business, or business with tennis; I attend to both. People think of me as an athlete, but I am not, really. I am a businessman."
OLD MAN OF THE SKY