On the Ground... Eventually

by: Steve Tignor | May 23, 2008

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The resplendent correspondent returns* with a few musings - sartorial and otherwise - from the French Open grounds ahead of the tournament.


2008_05_23_federer_blog The best of intentions fall victim to greater forces and that's what happened for this writer trying to get to Paris today in time for the draw. A two-hour plus delay on the tarmac resulted in a trans-Atlantic flight that arrived well late and ruined any hopes of getting to Roland Garros in time for the noon-hour draw ceremony.

A few years ago, the French Open joined the Aussie Open in doing its draw by having a computer select the names at random – supposedly.

Today in Paris, at least the seeded players were drawn manually, with Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic doing the honors. Nadal pulled the women’s tokens out of the trophy while Ivanovic did the same for the men.

Neither did the other any favors – with Ivanovic picking Novak Djokovic on Nadal’s side of the draw for a prospective semi-final and Nadal pulling out the tokens in such a way that the bottom half of the draw pits the Serbs (Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic) againt the Williamses (Serena and Venus respectively).

They still have a quaint if politically incorrect habit here of printing the women’s draw in pink and the men’s in blue. That might not fly in the land where one of the presidential candidates wears pant suits.

We’ll leave the analysis of the draw to wiser Tennis.com minds but will mention that it has been revealed the bottom halves of both the men’s and women’s draws will be played on Sunday and Monday. One imagines there will be a fair bit of top-half action on Monday as well. So no Federer or Sharapova for a few more days but very likely a Guga farewell match against Paul-Henri Mathieu on Monday or Sunday – the latter more likely.

The Mighty Federer (to borrow a term from next door) was practising on the Court Philippe Chatrier between 3 pm and 4 pm against Jose Acasuso.

The first thing one notices on entering Chatrier is that Tribune C, the end with all the broadcasting facilities, has been completely rebuilt since last year. It contains two glass levels at the top that somehow have the look of a Manhattan skyscraper and don’t quite fit in with the rest of the court. There’s something too blatantly modern and shiny about it – a long way from the old green “beton” (concrete) that has long been the hallmark of Court Centrale. That was how the stadium was known before they began naming the courts after people... Note: just read that Tribune C is no longer – replaced by the Tribune Rene Lacoste!

Got there in time to see Roger play an end-of-practice session tiebreak against Acasuso. Rog was dressed in a seafoam green shirt and white shorts. Don’t know if that’s his new color for this year’s Roland Garros but though muted, it’s tasteful and definitely not sun-absorbent for those potentially hot, sweltering days.

Jose Higueras was at the back of the court in the traditional coach’s spot while Severin Duthi, the Swiss Davis Cup captain and TMF’s buddy, stood by the net.

Mirka was also present, as she so often is at Roger’s practices.

Roger hit one of those fake forehand drop shots that he turns into a slice drive-the-ball-hard-and-deep to make the score 3-3 against Acasuso. After nine points, he said to Higueras, “What’s the score?” Higueras replied, “It’s 5-4.” And then Roger said, “For me?” Higueras answered in the affirmative.

Guess that indicates that it wasn’t life and death. In any case, TMF won the TB 7-5 when Acasuso dumped a backhand dropshot in the net.

As Federer was leaving the court, Marcos Baghdatis was coming on and looked significantly thinner than he used to.

Roger didn’t say too much in the presser that followed, except that he tried to insist it didn’t matter that Djokovic did not come out on his side of the draw. In French he said, “If he’s in my half, I can control it.” Whatever that meant.

But generally he seemed happy with his recent play and the tactics he has been using. He implied that he played attacking tennis against Nadal, and because of that he could control whether he won or lost. As for the two losses to Nadal this spring, he said that he would have liked to have not been broken a few more times. Told that the balls are apparently very lively and asked what kind of factor that might be, he said, “It depends who you’re playing.”

Djokovic came in and seemed “bien dans sa peau” (happy in his skin, as the French say). He admitted he is still upset at the criticism about him pulling out of the Monte Carlo semifinal against Federer and said he is not the kind of guy to do that.

Basically, he gives off a confident air and you get the feeling he would love to play Nadal in the semis. He said the heavy weather in Hamburg last Saturday did not help his game.

A few random thoughts: Richard Gasquet’s current fragile mental state is brilliantly illustrated this week’s Equipe Magazine. The lead picture is a Lacoste white hat hovering above the red clay on the Court Chatrier – with nothing inside it.

BTW – Alize Cornet is on the cover – a fun profile head shot of her laughing.

In the late afternoon, it was time to try to get a feel of the day on the qualifying courts and take a quick walk around the outside courts used for the 'cal-eefs' – as they are called here.

Those courts are separated from the main area around Chatrier during the qualifying and two young women I talked to as I walked through the gate to the non-qualifying area complained about that. They said the only players they had a chance to watch practice were Verdasco and Almagro on Court 9. Because they're handsome guys? No, one of the women (a Verdasco fan) insisted, she liked his game.

They told me that Almagro had been practising without anything on the wrist he hurt in Rome.

The first man I spoke with had just been watching a match between France’s Nicolas Devilder and South African Rik De Voest. I asked him if he’d seen many matches, and he said he was just watching one – the Devilder match. When I asked who won, he said “Devilder.” When I asked if he played well, he said, “Yes, he’s my cousin.”

Stopping by one of the Roland Garros shops that are already open, a sales girl told me that a little women’s top/skirt ensemble was popular. The top is beige and the bottom is terre battue colour. They are sold separately.

At another booth, a sales girl told me they have a multi-use Roland Garros cell phone that goes for a mere 189 Euros – closing in $300 U.S.

They also sell the Roland Garros ball (container of 4) for 8 Euros (about $12 U.S.).

Wandering some more, I found a guy who had just watched Evgeny Korolev – Jean-Rene Lisnard, the Frenchman who now plays for Monte Carlo.

He gave me details of the match – Lisnard led 4-1 in the first set but lost it 7-5. He led 4-1 in the second but Korelev caught up only to lose it 7-5. In the third, it was Korolev who was ahead 2-0, 3-1, 4-2 but Lisnard came back and won it 7-5.

“He battled,” the guy said about Lisnard, “but Korolev made quite a few backhand errors near the end.”

He was slightly disappointed with the match. “They played most of the time from the back-court, with the occasional drop shot. It would have been more 'sympa' (nice) if there had been more attacking tennis.”

He was surprised when I told him Korolev was Anna Kournikova’s cousin.

Finally, heading back to media room, I stopped to see a match between Eduardo Schwank of Argentina and Ilia Bozoljac of Serbia. I saw retired Frenchman Nicolas Escude watching, controlling a stroller as he and his wife/girlfriend (?) looked after a tiny girl of two or three.

An Australian Open semi-finalist in 1998, he led France to the Davis Cup in 2001 and ranked as high as 17 in 2000. I asked the still wiry Frenchman, now 32, if he still played tennis. He answered, “No.”

I thought his hip was what forced him to retire but he said, “No, it was my shoulder, I had an operation.”

I asked him if the shoulder would ever get any better and he answered, “No, that’s just the way it goes.”

A final note, Justine will be here tomorrow, giving a press conference at 11 a.m. – as will Guga at some point in the day.

Incidentally, Yannick Noah and Mats Wilander apparently played tennis on a floating court somewhere on the Seine near the Eiffel Tower tonight.

Bon Soir,   

Your sartorially resplendent correspondent

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