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Alix Ramsay’s First Look At Roland Garros • And Roger Federer’s First Hit From RG2019 • Paris, France

All change at Roland Garros but Roger Federer is ready for anything


Sacre bleu – is nothing sacred? In the 12 months since the tennis caravan last rolled into Paris for the French Open, everything has changed.


Roger Federer, the man who turned his back on clay court tennis three years ago in order to prolong his career and keep his ageing joints on order is now back on the red stuff, Rafa Nadal – usually the nailed on favourite to win the title with no obvious challengers – is still most people’s pick to lift the trophy but that bloke Dominic Thiem is in serious danger of stealing his thunder while Naomi Osaka, the world No.1 and the woman who has not lost a grand slam match since Wimbledon last summer, is only 14-1 with the bookies to win. What is the world coming to?


And then there is Roland Garros itself. Blimey, has the place changed.


Before anyone accuses us of national bias, we will be holding our hand up. Yes, we are of the British persuasion. And yes, the Brits and the French have always had a complicated relationship. To us they are Frogs; to them, we are les Rosbifs (odd how our chosen terms of abuse refer to the favourite foodstuffs of our targets). But this bias has nothing to do with what is to follow.


Roland Garros is in the middle of a massive rebuilding and refurbishment project which should take another two of three years to complete. The main work should be finished by next year – the new roof over Court Philippe Charier should be in place for 2020 – but there will still be things to do after that. And the place looks like a building site. A chic building site, but a building site nonetheless.


Now, let us compare this to Wimbledon. The good people of the AELTC have had the builders in since 1993 when they first devised their “Long Term Plan”. And no sooner had that plan been completed (a roof over Centre Court, new No.1 Court, new media centre, broadcast centre and players’ building, new courts two and three), than they instigated “The Master Plan”.


It is not as sinister as it sounds but it does mean that large blokes with bulldozers and cranes will be making the place look untidy for the foreseeable future. Well, they will for nine to 10 months of every year.


The thing about Wimbledon is that they are never seen to be doing anything at all. Like a swan making its way down the river, what is on show above the waterline is regal and serene; underneath, it is paddling like the clappers to keep the whole operation moving in the right direction.


Every summer since 1993, the visitors to SW19 have swooned over the orderly rows of petunias and hydrangeas, they have marvelled at the Virginia creeper growing in uniform clumps across the clubhouse walls and they have thought the whole place looked a picture. Little did they know that just a few weeks before, the place had been knee-deep in diggers, pneumatic drills and workmen. That is just how Wimbledon does things.


Still, there is another full day to get Roland Garros tarted up before the tournament starts and there are cleaning crews everywhere. The new 5,000-seat Court Simonne-Mathieu is supposed to be a real stunner (we haven’t seen it yet but the pictures look amazing) and the refurbished Court Philippe Chatrier looks great even without its roof. Roland Garros will be fabulous when it’s finished but, then again, people have been saying that about the city of New York for decades.


The appeal of the French Open is lost on some, however. Nick Kyrgios pulled out on Friday due to an unspecified illness prompting some to think that he was simply sick of clay. His withdrawal came just a couple of days after he shellacked the tournament on social media. After hitting at Wimbledon with Andy Murray, the Australian many love to hate made his views very clear.


“The fact that I’m here right now and then I have to go to Paris in like a couple of days is like … the French Open just sucks compared to this place,” Kyrgios said in a video “It sucks.”


As for Wimbledon, he was pretty clear about that, too: “This is the best tournament in the world … get rid of the clay, man. Who likes the clay?”


Allez les Rosbifs, then. Good on, you, Nick.


It was a perfect end to the Aussie’s clay court season, one that saw him defaulted in Rome for effing and blinding and chucking a chair across the court, and one that he will not be sad to consign to history.


He had been scheduled to play Scotland’s Cam Norrie in the opening round and our Cam sounded a bit sorry to be missing the chance to be a part of a match that would have been, in Cam’s humble opinion, “entertaining”.


Now, here’s the thing. The keyboard warriors on social media and the stuffed shirts in the boardrooms love to hammer Kyrgios every time he opens his mouth. And, yes, Nick has made his mistakes – quite a few of them – in the past. But with the exception of Casper Ruud, the beneficiary of Kyrgios’s meltdown in Rome who went on to call for Kyrgios to be banned for six months, there are precious few players who have a bad word to say about him.


“I don’t agree with that at all,” Cam said of Ruud’s comment. “I think that was pretty harsh of him to kind of celebrate how he did after getting a default when Nick could have easily turned up on the day and chopped him probably in straight sets so that was a bonus for him to kind of get that but yeah that’s my opinion.


“I think Nick’s great. There’s endless things on Twitter about the way he’s acting and stuff – I’m not saying it’s correct but I like that he’s kind of his own person and whatever he wants, he’s not trying to follow someone else and I think it’s pretty interesting for fans. But I don’t know if I kind of agree with the way he’s doing it and going about it. I don’t know, I think he does attract a lot of fans and he is good for tennis in a way.”


The mighty Fed has spent a lifetime being good for tennis and with what may well be his last ever trip to the French Open (he is 38 in August, so every tournament he plays could be his last at that venue), he was sounding cautiously optimistic. Could he do the unthinkable and win a second French title?


“Don’t know; a bit of a question mark for me,” he said. “Some ways I feel similar to maybe the Australian Open in ’17. A bit of the unknown. I feel like I’m playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I’m not sure if it’s in my racket, you know. But I hope I can get myself in that position deep down in the tournament against the top guys.”


Sacre bleu – that really would be a turn up for the book.

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