by Gauloises, TW Contributing Writer
8.15 a.m. - While breakfasting on ham and madeleines, I contemplate the order of play. It’s a big day; the top seeds are playing their first matches, which means that many players we’ve watched and cheered for over the past few days will be running smack into the elite of the game. It’s going to be a day of tough choices about what to watch; there’s no time to waste.
10.35 a.m. - Waste valuable time being propositioned by the guy with one eye who hands out the free newspapers outside Bercy metro station.
11.03 a.m. - Through security (“for you, no problem!”) and wait outside the arena for a break in play. Roddick is serving for the set at 5-1 and it’s clear that as hungry as Nieminen appeared against Malisse, Roddick on a fast court is simply a class above. I pick up a copy of the OOP and realize Marin Cilic is playing Sergiy Stakhovsky on Court 1. Knowing Marin as I do, it’s clear his need will be greater.
11.11 a.m. - Settle into a mainly deserted Court 1. With the blue and green walls and various susurrations of machinery, it’s like being underwater. Cilic is facing break points right, left and centre in the second set. I watch and try to understand how, with all that game and his physical gifts, he isn’t a permanent fixture in the Top 10. The charitable interpretation is that he still has a way to go.
11.51 a.m. - The first gut-wrenching choice of a packed day’s play confronts me; to leave Cilic now seems tantamount to abandonment, but Roddick has just served out the match and Djokovic will be next on centre. The thought of Djokovic’s traditional Bercy entrance in a Halloween mask makes up my mind for me.
11.53 a.m. - The James Bond music and light show somehow doesn’t seem so inappropriate when the one being introduced is Djokovic.
11.55 a.m. - He’s not wearing a Halloween mask! I abandoned Cilic for this?!
12.10 p.m. - Monaco is hitting the ball exceptionally cleanly, absorbing and redirecting pace effortlessly. Djokovic, on the other hand, doesn’t look fully awake and his game as yet has no bite. It’s a predictable early break for Monaco, and we eat our first ficelles and settle in for a long match.
But part of being a champion is having the wherewithal to change the flow of play when the match isn’t going your way. Djokovic starts by attacking the net, forcing an edge of aggression into his play. Monaco is left stranded and looking ordinary, confronting the limitations of his game. The elderly French couple behind us are swiftly sighing ooh la la . . . after each point.
Match point comes and just like that, Monaco is leaving the court disregarded while Djokovic earns a huge roar of applause for speaking to the crowd in French. When he hits the ball into the stands, a white-haired gentlemen plucks it from the air in a neat disply of left-handed fielding, then hands it proudly to his teenage daughter. At least we hope she’s his daughter.
1.55 p.m. - Murray and Nalbandian are underway. We have a lovely view of Murray’s unbelievable defense, and a perfect one of Nalbandian’s sharp, lethal mid-court volleys. I abandon journalistic impartiality, resign myself to being publicly British, and give it some . . . C’mon Andy!
He doesn’t. He’s punching his strings, looking distinctly unhappy with life. I should be despairing, but I’m finding it impossible not to rejoice in Nalbandian’s stunning play, forehands into the corners as flat and precise as bullets, lobs on the run that seem laser-targeted. The Argentine is utterly in control.
The worst part about live tennis is how a favourite’s defeat can impact your day. My friend is rapidly descending into the blackest of moods while I try to persuade her there’s still hope. Murray follows in Djokovic’s footsteps by finding another gear to his game. He starts the second set with consecutive serve and volleys and makes the most of his own excellent net skills. At least he’s trying to do something different, I tell my friend. She grunts something unintelligible. There’s a reason that he’s good, I say to her (but mostly to myself). There’s a reason that he’s good.
3.00 p.m. - And there it is. Nalbandian’s level drops and Murray steals the second set out from under him. Having demonstrated that he can survive a period of less-than-spectacular play and still find himself well in the match, the momentum is always in his favour in the third set, and even a painful wrist can’t prevent him from reaching the next round. By the end, Nalbandian looks impotent and furious.
4.01 p.m. - I have finally found the secret smoking area by the river. My joy is tempered by the news that while I have been watching the tennis, Amelie Mauresmo has been in the press centre. Not all choices work out for the best.
4.13 p.m. - Rather than listen to the drums for Llodra, I decide to prove my theory that doubles on Court 2 is the hot ticket, opting for Ljubicic and Cilic against the Bryan brothers. Maybe I’m seeing them on an off day, but I’m not that impressed by the Bryans. All the while, the Croatians were more charimsatic. They alternate hitting eye-catching winners with ugly misses, and laugh with each other and their coaches.
The Bryans are poker-faced, communicating in monosyllables - “yeah?” “Right.” “Dude.” “Yeah.” But in the crucial moments, they summon their best play with the assurance that comes with the mastery of their craft.
The Croatians push them hard, but lose by the narrowest of margins in two tiebreak sets. As we leave the court, a Bryan says to me, “Thanks for watching,” with such sincerity that I take back at least half the negative things I’ve ever said about them.
5.58 p.m. - The magic of live tennis. A match that you thought was going to be merely a pleasant way of passing the time becomes the most absorbing thing you’ve seen all day. David Ferrer and Fabio Fognini on a packed Court 1 are locked in a battle that’s compelling from the start, not least because of the similarities in their style of play.
Between points, Ferrer paces the baseline with grim determination, round-shouldered and never still; Fognini has a cocky strut, he's a Ken doll to Ferrer’s Energizer bunny. When a rally starts, however, they trade hammer blows from the baseline, running what seems like miles in a single point. They trade breaks, then split sets; Ferrer bellows in frustration like a wounded bull, while Fognini lets loose streams of Italian invective, helpfully translated and thus rendered unrepeatable by our acquaintance from Milan.
7.02 p.m. - Into a third set, and the spectators are leaving in droves to take their seats for Federer-Gasquet, but we and a few others are staying at our posts like the band on the Titanic.
Ferrer is still unable to read the Fognini serve or eliminate the unforced errors from his game, but he seems to play better—or at any rate run faster—the longer the match goes on. He throws himself bodily into his forehands so that his feet rise high above the surface. This is a player who makes his living punching above his weight, and attempting to out-Ferrer Ferrer can only take Fognini so far.
When match point comes and goes, it’s the Spaniard waving and basking in the fervent applause. The TV coverage might have cut away to more glamorous climes, and he doesn’t get the light show, but a different James Bond theme comes to mind—Nobody Does It Better. Ferrer may not be the best player in the world, but he’s proved once again that he’s the best at what he does.
8.13 p.m. - Still buzzing, we secure tickets for tomorrow—we haven’t had nearly enough of this—and take our seats on centre court. Federer already leads Gasquet by a set and a break, and despite the packed arena and hypnotic drum beat between points, there’s nothing here that can match the intensity of what we’ve just witnessed.
9.57 p.m. - Soderling has taken the first set without doing very much, and it’s obvious that the frisson has left the building for the day. We decide to do the same.
10.18 p.m. - Disembarking the metro at Chatelet, we’re accosted by an unsavory gentleman who persists in trying to set up a rendez-vous. So much for James Bond.
11.05 p.m. - Back to our tiny, rented apartment. And now, to write …