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Fed In His Sunday Best • Roger Federer Resumes His French Affair

The logo of Roland Garros is seen as Lloyd Harris of South Africa prepares to serve to Borna Coric of Croatia during their men?s second round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 30 May 2019. EPA-EFE/JULIEN DE ROSA

 

Editors Note: This was lost in our system since Sunday. Oops. Summer intern or the big boss? It was like a tennis ball hiding in a planter or in the bushes. Ta da, we found it.  Alix wrote too good a piece not to still publish it. Enjoy!

 

By Alix Ramsay

 

In Paris, style is everything. And at Roland Garros, they have spent millions on making their grand slam the most stylish on the planet: a rebuilt Court Phillipe Chatrier, a whole new and beautiful Court Simonne-Mathieu and countless other improvements and additions.

 

But their pièce de résistance has been the return of Roger Federer. He has been the missing star in the French Tennis Federation’s firmament since he lost to Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals in 2015 but this year the wanderer has returned. And the French are head-over-heels in love.

 

He began his campaign with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win over Lorenzo Sonego, the world No.73 from Italy. To be fair, he could have been playing a wheelie bin in tennis shorts and the crowd would have gone just as mad – the French adore Fed and they are just delighted that he is back. He skipped 2016 with a bad back and a sore knee and he has not been back since, preferring to spend the clay court months preparing for the grass.

 

When the 24-year-old Sonego walked on court, he got a decent round of applause all right, but it was clear that he was there merely to make up the numbers. And then Fed was announced and as he strode on to the clay, the crowd rose to give him a standing ovation. Fed was here; the tournament could begin.

 

Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates after winning his men's singles third round match against Borna Coric of Croatia at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, 16 May 2019. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates after winning his men’s singles third round match against Borna Coric of Croatia at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, 16 May 2019. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

“I feel that the public missed me, and I missed them, as well,” Fed said. “So 10 or 20 years later [after his first French title and his Roland Garros debut] or after not playing here for many years, there was some buzz, which I could feel on the court when I was training and when I was playing today.

 

“So it was rather cool, rather pleasant, and I really loved the welcome I got on the court. I hope that it continues like this.”

 

If he keeps playing like he did against Sonego, it probably will. Fed didn’t have to bring out all the whistles and bells – his Italian foe was not good enough for that – but it was a polished and accomplished performance, one you might expect from a 20-time grand slam champion.

 

Even so, our hero is not making much of his chances of success in the next couple of weeks. It has been eight years since he reached a Roland Garros final and at the age of 37, he is not expecting to rip up the form book and win a second trophy in Paris. Then again, there is something hugely refreshing about going into a tournament with that mindset.

 

“It’s nice to be an outsider,” he said. “That’s how I feel, anyhow. Just see how it goes, you know. I know when Wimbledon comes around, sure, I’ll be probably a higher favourite. That’s okay, too. You know, I’m happy that I’m there where I am.

 

“But for many years it was either, if I don’t win, it’s a disappointment, and you explain yourself in the press room. People, like, don’t understand why you lost. So I feel like [now] if I lost first round or in the finals or wherever it is, people would be, like, Okay, that could have happened.

 

“I like that approach for me also once in a while. It relaxes you on the bigger points maybe or it relaxes you subconsciously as you walk through the grounds and go to practice and go to the press room.

 

“This is not a show I’m putting on. This is the truth. I really don’t know how far I can go in this event, and I am very happy with my first round. It was a really good performance, I thought, from my side for not having played here for as long as I did.”

 

Stefanos Tsitsipas was not really buying into this line of thinking. He exceeded his own expectations with his 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 win over Maximilian Marterer and now plays the unheralded Hugo Dellien, the world No.92 from Trinidad in Bolivia. Mr Dellien ought not to trouble Stef too much but looking further ahead, he can see Fed possibly waiting in the quarter-finals. And he ain’t looking at Fed as an underdog.

 

“I know that with them [the Federers and Nadals] I have to be twice more focused and not give points away,” Tsitsipas said. “They control the court so well. They know what they’re doing. They know where they’re playing, so everything is actually counted on these small details.

 

“I have seen the difference when I play the rest of the guys and them. They don’t overplay, don’t do crazy things. But they play so right, and they always actually are confident with themselves, with anything they are doing. I think that’s the difference that I have seen.”

 

If they do meet next week, Stef expects a tough afternoon. And if Fed makes it to next week, the French crowd will probably have him canonised. They have rebuilt their tournament venue to host the best in the world – and now they want the best in the history of the sport to christen it for them.

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