Grounds Pass, Day 9, June 4
PARIS—This year I’m staying at a press hotel in the city’s 15th arrondissement. Or at least I think this is an arrondissement; all I can see from my tiny square window is a highway. I can’t say I would recommend this area of town, unless you’re one of those odd and unromantic people who have seen all of Paris that you ever want to see.
The one upside is that there are small vans, covered with the green-and-black Perrier logo, that shuttle us back and forth from the tournament. I'll say this about women van drivers here: From my brief experience, they like to talk about rugby. One woman who has driven us this year also has good taste in music. One day last week, she patiently went through the dial looking for, as she said, “real music.” I didn’t know what that might mean, until she stopped at a station that was playing Otis Redding’s (far superior) version of “My Girl.” She was right, here was some real music. A few minutes later, though, I lost a little confidence in her when she leaned forward, squinted, and asked, “Is that light red?”
Time for the daily report. It has gone from cloudy to downright chilly here; now, as I look up at my monitor and see David Ferrer and Marcel Granollers walking on, and walking straight back off, there’s rain.
As we make the turn into the second week and get the quarterfinals set, we’ve reached what people like to call the “business end of the tournament.” With that in mind, I'll begin the new week by reviewing where those most business-like of tennis players, the Top 3 men, stand at the moment.
Next opponent: Winner of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Stan Wawrinka. Tsonga currently leads 4-2 in the fifth set.
Form: For a man who wants this tournament as much as any other, and who, by winning it, can do something his two rivals have never done, Djokovic was alarmingly bad in his last match, against Andreas Seppi. Every day is a new one, and Djokovic has already said he’ll have to play better to beat Tsonga or Wawrinka, but that was not an auspicious performance if he hopes to beat Federer and Nadal in consecutive matches this coming weekend.
Obligatory Caveat about Form: Djokovic never really played his best in Australia, and he won the tournament.
Fashion: Djokovic, as you know, has a new clothing sponsor, Uni-Qlo, and it’s made a difference. Instead of the fire-breathingly gaudy stuff he was sporting for Sergio Tacchini, Djokovic has now been swung in the other direction, to a crisp and conservative navy and white look. It’s probably not special enough for a No. 1, and fashionistas must think its too risk-averse, but I like it.
Q: “So you’re desperate to win you’re first Roland Garros and realize the big Grand Slam.”
ND: “Well, first of all, 'desperate' is a very harsh word. (Laughter). I wouldn’t say I’m desperate about it, but I do look forward to this Roland Garros.”
Next opponent: Berdych or del Potro. Del Potro is up two sets to one
Form: Federer has lost a set in three different matches. One or two I would chalk up to a motivated opponent giving everything he had for a brief period before coming back down to earth. But three would appear to be a pattern, and a sign that Federer is not as sharp here as he usually is at the majors. I wonder how many Slams he’s won where’s lost a set to three separate players.
Obligatory Caveat about Form: Then again, his spotless play through the quarterfinals in Australia this year didn’t lead anywhere. And while del Potro or Berdych would certainly be dangerous, Federer has very good records against both. Del Potro, in particular, doesn’t have a lot of belief when he faces Federer and his crafty one-handed backhand at the moment.
Fashion: The gray with the mysterious yellow specks? With all due respect, it’s not working for me.
Quote: Federer is always good on the topic of the legends that preceded him; he’s seems to enjoy being a fan for a minute, as if that's a more normal state of relating to tennis. He was asked a rather amorphous question this week about the different generations of stars that he’s faced, but I liked his answer.
Q: You competed against many generations in your career: Sampras, Agassi, Hewitt, Safin, and now Rafa and Djokovic. How do you look back against matchup against many champions?
ROGER FEDERER: I could answer this for one hour. There are many different ways to look at it. I could write a book about this one.
I will try to give you a one minute version of it. I really enjoyed my time coming up playing against sort of heros of mine and guys I knew from TV. That was, for me, just really exciting.
I couldn't believe. It was like surreal at times. Afterwards playing a new generation, I think that was exciting, because you pushed up through juniors and all of a sudden you're playing on the center courts in front of many fans and with live TV and everybody judging you, are you going to be the next best thing or is your opponent going to be the next best guy?
I thought that was exciting, too. Then it takes some getting used to playing the younger guys coming through, because you don't know yet how good they're going to really be. And eventually they really great, like Rafa and Novak, and then sort of you expect the next generation to come through already.
I was happy I was able to play through so many different players and great champions already, and I'm sure I will still play against them more in the future.
Round: Round of 16
Next Opponent: Juan Monaco
Form: Nadal said he felt less nervous and more confident than he did during the first week here last year, and he ended up winning that one. He’s manhandled his first three opponents in straights, and has a 3-1 record against Monaco, including a 1, 1, and 2 thrashing in their last match, last November in Davis Cup. In other words, Nadal is playing the best tennis of anyone in the draw, and hasn’t done anything to make anyone rethink his status as the pre-tournament favorite. Still, I think Monaco will swing out and make their fourth-rounder today on Lenglen a match worth watching.
Obligatory Caveat about Form: Rafa did once lose a fourth-round match here, three years ago, to another player he had recently thrashed, Robin Soderling.
Fashion: The red shirt looks sharp against the dusty orange courts.
Quote: After his last match, Nadal had this to say about his immediate future.
“I hope I will continue on this interesting and winning streak of matches.”
In other news, Greg Bishop has, as Nadal might say, and interesting and winning piece in the Herald-Tribune today about the next phase in the ATP players’ compensation demands. While most of us quote the figure of 13 percent when we talk about how much of the tour’s total revenue the players take home, the number at the Slams, as one ATP official told me, is half of that. What makes it worse is that the players, unlike at normal tour events, have no say in the matter. Imagine the Rolling Stones doing a tour and being informed that they would receive six percent of the profits.
Some numbers: The French Open this year will make roughly 140 million euros—49 million in TV rights; 28 million in ticketing; 30 million in hospitality; and 33 million from sponsors. Interesting that the lowest of those numbers comes from plain old ticket selling to the public.
After the increase negotiated by the ATP and the Top 4, first-round losers took home more this year than ever, 18,000 euros ($23,000). Even after expenses, that’s not too shabby, though there's been speculation that it also inspired some players to show up here and default, so they could pick up their more generous check.
According to most players, though, these increases are just a start. The ATP and the Slams consider them a good faith gesture, with broader changes and negotiations to come. The next announcement of note will come from the USTA, which will reveal their 2012 prize money numbers after Wimbledon. With the Top 4 involved, it seems that the players, after 44 years in business together, finally have some leverage on the majors.