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A collector’s destiny to share his passion for Donnay

By Michel Guilluy, TC Waltzing


The power of destiny

I sometimes ask myself whether I am passionately fond of collecting tennis rackets or if I am mad for accumulating wooden oldies. I believe that there are certain areas in life where it is simply not possible to apply rational decisions, especially when a sequence of events seems to lead you in a certain direction. In my case, I believe that I am just walking in the footprints of my own destiny.

In September 1992, good summer tennis performances pushed me into a regional Master tournament. To my surprise, I slowly made my way (i.e. I was playing two- to three?hour matches) to the final. Clearly my opponent soon looked too powerful for me as he always kept that pressure on the game, making it almost impossible to react tactically. I still do not understand how I managed to turn the game around twice from a 0-5 score (i.e. two cold showers of fifteen minutes each) and finally win 7-5 and 7-5. This was the most unlikely victory in my career which explains why I was thrilled at the idea that the prize award would match my tennis fate. The ceremony came soon after the close of the match and, to my greatest surprise, the committee members handed me a … blue-green working tool which I was told, served as a drilling-machine…A drilling-machine, for me? Me with my “2 left hands” and my “don’t do-it-yourself, call your father-in-law” attitude ! What the hell was I going to do with that heavy revolver?

My mother’s racket

My mother grew up on a farm and was a teenager during the Second World War. Leisure time was virtually unheard of in those days. Instead, physical activities were taking place in the fields, including harvesting crop or picking up potatoes from sunup to sundown. Tennis, which at the time was reserved for the upper class, captured the young woman’s imagination. It was the symbol of leisure, the gateway to a better life or even the allegory of love, as shown in the colour postcards printed between the 2 wars.

In the winter of 1944, she laid her hands on a tennis dress pattern and carried on that project during sewing courses, to the great surprise of her classmates who were used to a more sensible clothing selection.

In the summer of 1945, she rode her bicycle to the nearest city and went into the prestigious local sport shop. She decided to treat herself and spent all her savings on a nicely polished tennis racket. Her parents were quite taken aback by her decision to purchase this item! What on earth would she use this racket for when she had no access to tennis courts and could not even practice on the paving blocks in the farm’s courtyard?

Today, her beloved racket is still shining.

In 2002, she gave me the precious symbol which I wanted to display in the basement staircase. That symbol brought to mind another…That is how, 10 years after it was first given to me, the rust?splattered drilling-machine finally went into action! Twelve hundred holes later, a full collection of wood rackets covers the basement walls from top to bottom. Only a fridge plastered with tennis posters is trying to compete with the rackets for visitor attention.

A passion for Donnay

Since I live in the south of Belgium where Donnay rackets can still be found in numerous flea markets, I quickly accumulated a large collection of these models as well as supporting documentation. In early 2008, I started to write a book to commemorate the Donnay centenary which will take place in 2010. In February 2009, I got the support of the Management of Donnay International SA which has now relocated to Tubize, on the outskirts of Brussels. I was also able to gain invaluable advice and information from Jacky Brichant. Jacky was one of the world’s top ten tennis players in the fifties, leading Belgium twice to the Davis Cup inter-zone finals, in 1953 and 1957. He was employed by Donnay between 1953 and 1963 as representation and promotion manager.

The Donnay centenary book

In my quest for interviews of former Donnay executives, destiny was there again, as I was soon introduced to Guy Pignolet’s son, Alain, who I realized lived just 20 km from my home. Guy Pignolet joined Donnay in 1957 and was managing director in the seventies and eighties until he passed away in 1988. Alain grew up in the Donnay culture and has invaluable keepsakes from a glorious past, including private photographs of Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg or unique tennis rackets. We therefore decided to join forces and write the anniversary book together.

This book, which is part of a philanthropic project, will be divided into two volumes, tentatively structured as follows:

Volume I (by Michel Guilluy with the collaboration of Alain Pignolet)
Part One: the 100-year history of Donnay
Part Two: Donnay, developing the imagination, i.e. a wood racket catalogue illustrated by tennis anecdotes from amateur players)
Part Three: the story of Donnay contract players (stories about the main contract players supplemented by the full catalogue of other contract players with reference to their racket specifications)

Volume II (by Alain Pignolet with the collaboration of Michel Guilluy)
Part One: The road to automation: the manufacturing life cycle of wood rackets (illustrated by numerous photographs of the machinery).
Part Two: The road to distribution: from upper class tennis leisure to worldwide tennis marketing.
Part Three: The road to innovation: the switch from wood rackets to graphite models.

In this context, the authors would welcome any anecdotes from Donnay players or other funny stories around tennis. Please drop an email to fa333161@skynet.be.