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"Hands across the net, friendship across the ocean "
To set the game above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes,
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood,
That binds the brave of all the earth.
-Sir Henry Newbolt...
AT 100 YEARS OLD, HÉLÈNE SALVETAT STILL SHINES
A leading light of French tennis, having enjoyed decades of success in international veteran tournaments, Hélène Salvetat celebrated her 100th birthday on 12 September. She’s been playing her favourite sport for 92 years, and still trains twice a week – a level of devotion that you can’t help but admire.
Despite suffering a stroke in 2017, which prevented her from continuing to compete in international tournaments, Hélène still plays tennis regularly, and it remains a major part of her life.
"Of course I’m still playing!” she commented. “I love it, it’s my life. And I feel like I'm playing better and better. At my home in Hossegor, we have a swimming pool and a garden, but without tennis, I get bored quickly.”
Twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, Hélène – still ranked world number 40 in 2018 – spends around 45 minutes training with her coach Franck Hervy on the covered courts of the Tennis Club of Tartas (Landes).
"Her forehand is still just as good; she continues to strike the ball with all her strength”, explained her husband, Jacques Salvetat who, 23 years her junior, is always there to support her. “But on the backhand, it's more complicated because her tendons hurt a little. Tennis really is part of her life, and her coach told me that over the last year and a half, Hélène has even improved her balance. On a court, she holds her own. For a near-centenarian, it seems incredible, even if after a session, she gets more tired than she used to – it takes her about a day to recover. For my part, I attend all her training sessions because even if Franck always feeds balls straight to her, when she moves too quickly, I’m afraid she’ll lose her balance.”
Attending one of Hélène Salvetat's sessions is still a privilege. Each forehand is accompanied either by a growl followed by a doubtful frown, or a simple smile, when the "missile" has hit the mark.
Five things you should know about Hélène Salvetat
1. LINGUIST AND TRAVELLER
A former airline flight manager, Hélène speaks five languages (French, English, Italian, Greek and Arabic). “I’ve met Americans, Brits and Australians. I have friends all over the world. I love being around charming people. Speaking foreign languages also gives me a sense of escape."
2. "UNDERARM SERVING IS FOR GRANNIES"
In August 2017, about ten days after returning home following her stroke, Hélène started playing tennis again. "I lost my serve a little, which annoyed me a lot. My coach advised me to serve underarm, but no way, I hate doing that! Underarm serving is for grannies!”
3. THE LOVE OF TENNIS
Hélène discovered tennis in Egypt, her native country, when she was just eight. While her mother played on the court next to the family villa, Hélène accompanied her to pick up the balls. Then at around 13-14 years old, at boarding school, she was able to train every Thursday. Once she returned to France, Hélène played tournaments and reached her highest rating (0) in the early fifties. "I have a good forehand and no major weaknesses," she said in a Tennis Info article in 2019. “I had to learn to master drop-shots because some opponents were using them to try to beat me.”
“Tennis is a source of balance, wellbeing and simply life for Hélène," says her husband, Jacques.
4. ACCOMPLISHED SPORTSWOMAN
Hélène has played many sports, including hockey, sailing, skiing, water skiing, horse riding and swimming, amongst others. "I love all sports, and I can't stay still. I started surfing five years ago with friends. I'm the daughter of a doctor; I think my father stuffed me with vitamins when I was a child," she smiles.
5. FEDERER THE MAGNIFICENT
A member of the Villa Primrose club in Bordeaux, Hélène has particularly fine tastes when it comes to her favourite players: "I love Roger Federer, he plays magnificent tennis. I would like to hit a few balls with him, and to meet him. I watch all his matches on TV.”
Happy birthday Ms Salvetat, and thank you for everything!
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