One man, one story

 - Julien Pichené

Arthur Larsen was a brilliant and unpredictable player, as well as a bohemian and eccentric character…

Often compared to James Dean for his lust for life, American player Arthur Larsen (1925-2012), who was runner-up at Roland Garros in 1954,  had rebellion in his blood.

However, this rebel definitely had a cause: playing tennis to escape the demons that haunted him.

Arthur Larsen© Gil de Kermadec/FFT

“Georges, you’ll walk it: your opponent hasn’t even slept!” Behind the scenes, there was no doubt about the match’s outcome. Once again, the finalist of the 1954 tournament had arrived at the stadium with the creases of a sleepless night etched on his face.

But that did not stop the American left-hander, whose playing style was both brilliant and unpredictable, from thrashing Frenchman Georges Deniau (6-0 6-2 6-2)!

This is just one of a thousand stories that revolve around this incredible player, who owned the fact that he was different: “I may look like a normal guy, but I’m not.”

“What do you want me to say?"

Born in Los Angeles in 1925, Larsen’s legendary story began during the Second World War, when he cheated death on several occasions. When he took up tennis in 1947, it was a whole other man holding his racquet.

An eccentric with a childlike, almost anarchic spirit and a soft spot for women, his mission was to enjoy life to the full. A compulsive smoker, he always had a drink or a cigarette on the go. “What do you want me to say? I never know what to do with my hands!” he liked to joke.

Superstitious to the point of tapping anything within reach, which earned him the nickname “Tappy”, Arthur Larsen was nothing like the typical modern-day sportsman.

Arthur Larsen© Gil de Kermadec/FFT

He was always last to leave the stadium of an evening, never practised, never got changed after a match, and would spend hours in the locker room, in his underwear and smoking a cigarette, lost in his thoughts.

On the rare occasions he slept, he would never go to bed before 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Legend has it that he once turned up to play an important match at Roland Garros having left his racquets back at the hotel.

An eagle perched on his shoulder

Forever listless, this night owl harboured a bizarre secret: he believed that he constantly had an eagle perched on his shoulder. Larsen would often be caught talking to this imaginary pet.

At Wimbledon, he left a security guard speechless when he asked if his eagle could come into the stadium. At Forest Hills, he demanded that the four marble eagles that decorate the court be covered up, so as not to upset his feathered companion.

His career came to a tragic end in 1956, when a serious scooter accident left the right side of his body paralysed.