By Alix Ramsay
Sunday starts – love ‘em or loathe ‘em? The TV companies love ‘em because it gives them an extra day of boys in shorts to put on air; the tournaments love ‘em because it means they can flog tickets for an extra day. But the rest of us? It leaves us with not a lot happening on the Sunday, not a lot happening on the Monday and, in a shock development, not a lot happening on the Tuesday either.
Part of that not a lot happening on Monday involves Rafa Nadal being stuck out on the Suzanne Lenglen court. It is a perfectly lovely court and it has seen some belting matches over the years but this is Rafa we are talking about, the eight-time champion. The defending champion. And now he has to start his defence away from the big stage?
Admittedly, Raf is playing Robby Ginepri who is well past his sell-by date but that is not the point. When did Fed begin his Wimbledon defence on Court One? When did Djoko get underway on the Margaret Court Court Court Court in Melbourne. It just does not seem right.
Rafa has not yet uttered a peep about this Parisian snub – but he might just after his match on Monday. Well, if we push him hard enough, he might. This was the nearest thing to a ruck or a row we had had since we got here. Things were looking up in the press bunker, Sunday start or no.
There was a time when Rodge loathed the Sunday kick-off. For him it ruined the natural rhythm of a grand slam – day on, day off; day on, day off – and so when he was asked to play on the very first Sunday start, he slammed down his perfectly shod Swiss foot and said “No!”. Actually, as a French speaker, he probably said “Non!” but let’s not split hairs. And then he was told to get on with it – which he did – so he grumped for days about the indignity of it all.
These days, Fed has more to think about. Now that he is knee-deep in children after Mirka presented him with his second set of twins just three weeks ago, he is trying to juggle being a dad of four, a possible contender for the title here and the husband of a missus who probably hasn’t slept for more than two hours at a stretch in as long as she can remember (which, as the mother of two sets of twins, is only going to be a day or so). In such circumstances, a Sunday start seems like a doddle.
As he clattered the unfortunate Lukas Lacko 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, it certainly looked to be child’s play for the former champion. And his 84-minute thrashing of the unfortunate Slovak (Lukas hasn’t won a match on clay in three years. Ah, bless…. and you get Rodge in the first round at Roland Garros…) was as easy as it comes. Rodge was good; Lukas wasn’t. Really, he wasn’t.
“Everything is great,” Federer beamed. “I’m happy I got off to a good start for the tournament here in Paris. There’s always that little bit of feeling that if you don’t feel well, if the opponent plays great, whatever happens so you could lose early. So I was happy getting early signs out of the match that I was actually playing well and I was going to get my chances I was looking for. I’m very pleased with the outcome of the match, very satisfied. My personal life, as we know, it’s all great, so I’m happy the family is here.”
The good news for Fed is that all the time off he has had during the clay court season (he missed Madrid to be at the birth of his boys and then got clumped in his first match in Rome a few days later) has given him a new lease of life.
Last year, as he struggled with a nagging back problem, he could not train or practise as much as he needed or wished. This year, with the back in good nick, he has been feeling much, much better. But, even so, this time of year is chaotic and there is precious little time to schedule any serious training to ready a chap for the rigours of two grand slams in the space of six weeks. But when the boys arrived a little earlier than expected, Rodge had time at home. And when he wasn’t doing fatherly duties, he had plenty of time to prepare for the challenges ahead.
“Because I was home and it gave me more time to train,” he said. “I have become again a touch stronger in the last few weeks and months really, which was important after the year I had last year that I do take those opportunities when I have them to work very hard.
“Then now after Rome it was more just staying in the rhythm and relaxing again before Paris and Halle and Wimbledon. It’s an important stretch now for me, and I don’t want to come into this tournament, you know, uninspired or tired or. That will be the worst thing. So for me it’s really about being fresh mentally more than anything at this point.”
Being fresh mentally is one thing; being fresh sartorially is entirely another. And at this time of year – the start of the European summer – the sartorial cock-ups have to be seen to be believed.
Rodge rocked up in Roland Garros in what appeared to be a kid’s games kit, albeit a perfectly ironed kid’s games kit. A man of his calibre deserves a collar but, alas, Nike had put him in a red and pale grey, collarless number that showed him sweating (the world gasped!). That said, he was not alone when it came to fashion faux pas.
On the other side of the net, Lukas Lacko – bearded, wearing black socks, iffy shoes and a beer belly to match many in the press room – looked like a roadie for the Grateful Dead. Venus Williams turned up in a dress that appeared to have cobbled together from a painter’s rag – smears of colour here and there where the struggling artist had cleaned his brushes. And then there was Tomas Berdych.
Tomas, he of the poor knicker-to-shorts ratio (his undies are always visible. Alarmingly) turned up to play on Court One in a shirt that defied belief. Maybe he was wearing it for a bet. If he wasn’t, he should have been. As it turned out, he wore it because he liked it, which explains a lot. The shirt was dark blue with white flowers and a couple of unfortunate stripes across the midriff. It was ‘orrible but Tomas liked it.
“It’s really nice,” he said. “It’s very different. Especially like today, you know, when I was like watching my opponent and then you see that the ball boys are running all around, and basically you have to find out if he’s a ball boy or it’s a player because everyone wears the same and everyone looks the same. So this is something different, which I like.”
There are many reasons why a grand slam should not start on a Sunday and Tomas’s shirt is one of them. Please God, Monday is better.