The 2019 French Open got underway in Paris on Sunday with a new venue and an old flame.
Parisian crowds love a Roger
When every second seems like a minute and every minute seems like an hour, three years seems rude. But not when it comes to Mr Federer. The 2009 French Open champion had not played at Roland Garros since 2015. In 2016 he was injured. In 2017 and 2018, International Tennis Icon said he didn't feel like it. Usually, that kind of snub would irk the partisans who howl and shriek with far less provocation. But we are in the Rogersphere.
The 37-year-old sauntered on to centre court on Day 1 in an off-white top and white shorts with a green streak down the side. After the warm-up, he divested himself of the top to reveal a green T-shirt with white streaks down the side. You could swim in the drool. “Roger! Roger!”, they chanted. They cheered his list of achievements and left his adversary, Lorenzo Sonego, in absolutely no doubt as to who was prized here.
Poor Lolo. Playing in his first match at the French Open and coming up against His Rogership. Sonego was duly drowned. He went a double break down in the first set and second set and lost those in little over an hour. Though the 24-year-old Italian showed flashes of the talent that had taken him to the last eight on the clay at the Monte Carlo Masters in April, it wasn't enough to ruffle the man. Sonego was dispatched after 100 minutes. “He's fast on his feet,” said Federer of his first round victim. “He's got a nice forehand, good first serve and I can see why he can be very dangerous for a lot of the guys on the tour.” Oh, Roger.
Roger loves a Parisian crowd
And with good reason. There is a virtuous circle which goes something like this. Federer plays graceful, wonderful tennis. He looks elegant and is munificent in defeat and conquest. What's not to like? And then he talks to the spectators in French. That was initially something that the other big guns such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could never do. Over the past few years, Djokovic has taken to speaking to le public in French and Nadal offers up a few words too. Roger though could discuss a 100 minute match for 100 minutes if necessary. But it isn't. He just plays it quick, clean and smooth. “Thank you for the welcome,” he said in French to his on-court interviewer Cedric Pioline. Pause for the cheers. “It's nice to see things progressing at Roland Garros. I'm looking forward to my next match whether it's here on centre court or Suzanne Lenglen or anywhere.” More cheers. Oh, Roger.
Old school values
It's only Day 1 and the review has seen the opportunity to don the hat of the grizzled veteran. When we were a fresh-faced pup of a hack, we remember covering Wimbledon and being barked at by a grizzled veteran of a news editor to go and find out the price of strawberries and cream in the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club so that articles could froth ire and incredulity about the extortion. Fast forward a few decades and we sadly have no ingénus to dispatch on such yarns. We have to do the legwork ourselves. In the newly opened Eastern Sector of Roland Garros housing Court Simonne Mathieu, an array of sandwiches are on offer at quite interesting prices. We particularly liked the look of the "Breadmaki Chelsea" which comprised smoked pork belly, romaine lettuce, cheddar cheese and mustard mayonnaise. 7.50 euros. Eyewatering. And not even any onions.
Walk on the wild side
To reach Court Simonne Mathieu in the Eastern Sector from the central zone, spectators are given a choice of allées. One route takes you past boards explaining the construction of the new court and the life of Simonne Mathieu, the other allée leads you through the heart of the Orangerie. The buildiings have been meticulously scrubbed. The one on the right offers up the ubersandwiches as well as a designer clothing outlet. The edifice on the left is proudly corpoate. Four separate sections in which glasses clink and voices travel. Roland Garrospitality indeed.
No time to be bitter about exclusion from the schmoozezone for a bright mind was in town. Marc Mimram, the architect who designed Court Simonne Mathieu, was in the posh seats for the first match on the court. It pitted the 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza against the unseeded American Taylor Townsend. It didn't start too well for the 19th seeded Spaniard. She dropped the first set but swept through the second and decider to advance to the second round. She said she was pleased to have inaugurated the venue. Mimram told the review that he was delighted with proceedings. “It is very difficult for an architect to know what is going to happen,” he said. “I was very nervous before the match. I felt like the ball being hit by the racquet. But the ambiance was good. The players liked it and the people liked it. I am very happy.” It is a sleek place. Mr Mimram, you the man.