French Open 2012: Roger Federer’s marriage of stats & style
Roger Federer overcomes Tobias Kamke of Germany 6-2 7-5 6-3 to reach the second round of the French Open in Paris
The French Open is perhaps the most elegant of the Slams, the most aesthetically pleasing of all tennis tournaments.
Its clay is a particularly deep and glowing orange, its courts are especially smooth and firm, its nets unusually dark and taut, its surrounds a collection of forest greens tempered with softer turquoise.
The whole appears touched by the paintbrush of Cezanne and infused with a je ne sais quoi of French style. Even its website conforms to the same restrained palette, while its collection of photographic images belongs in a gallery all of its own.
Appropriate, perhaps, that the elite of the men’s game at Roland Garros this year should be represented first by that comfortable mix of Parisian style and Teutonic cool, even aloofness.
Where others have hit the zinging orange courts in brights and whites, chevron patterns and acid hues, Roger Federer did it in head-to-toe charcoal grey. His nod to the citrus-inspired couture worn across colleagues’ shoulders was just a swoosh and a self-styled logo picked out in acid yellow on forehead and shoulder. Highlighted by the sun, they could have been the blinking cursors on a computer screen.
But it is not simply the style of the 2009 champion that makes Federer popular in Paris: It takes more than that to win the hearts and minds of the demanding Roland Garros spectators. What they recognise in Federer is a man who has put in the hard yards and the long years.
Thirteen times before, the Swiss man has taken to Roland Garros’s courts for a first-round match, though in this, his 14th, he was expected to advance beyond the one match he played in 1999.
This year’s French Open also notches up another noteworthy number. Paris was not only the first Grand Slam in which he played but has also become the 50th in a row that he has played—though he also took part here and in Wimbledon before that half-century run began.
No wonder, then, that he appears to be as fond of Roland Garros now as he was at first sight, despite the small matter of Rafael Nadal beating him in the 2005 semis and in four finals since.
Indeed Federer’s single victory in 2009 seems all the more sweet: “Obviously 2009 was very, very special winning here – the emotions were ridiculous. To relive those would be amazing, winning the title here, no doubt.”
And while the expectations of a repeat French title may be fewer than they were three years ago—Federer himself has put both Nadal and Djokovic ahead of himself in the pecking order—the first-round at least looked like a good opener to stretch the legs and absorb the pace of the court.
The German Tobias Kamke had different ideas. The compact 26-year-old, just 78 in the rankings, clearly relished the prospect of playing Federer to a packed crowd on Roland Garros’s second show court, Suzanne Lenglen.
Although Federer went up an early break, Kamke levelled again at 2-2, only to have Federer break him again in the sixth. Kamke continued to impress, though, with energetic, attacking tennis of big, bullet-loud ground strokes that belied both his size and ranking.
He came close to breaking again in the seventh, helped not a little by two double faults from Federer, but Kamke failed to convert his third chance and the calm No3 held with a soaring serve followed by a drop-shot winner.
But the 6-2 set against him did not sway the German. He began the second set with all guns blazing, going for big shots that peppered the lines time and again. It was high risk and high reward tennis that made for some free-swinging, fast and entertaining exchanges, and it paid off for the German. A big forehand winner sealed a break in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead.
Federer had to play strong tennis to stay with him, and he did so to break back immediately. But he could make few real inroads against the accuracy and speed of his opponent. Even the hard-to-read Federer serve regularly came back with interest, and demanded nimble footwork and hands even to get a racket on the ball.
At 5-5, Federer determined that enough was enough, and forced Kamke to deuce, and the pressure drew a rare forehand error from the German for a crucial break. It was Federer’s turn to waver, though: 40-0 and three set points up, he twice fired volleys into the net, but finally held, 7-5.
Still Kamke still did not let up, even after Federer broke to love in the third game. It took five deuces in the fourth for Federer to hold, and he took what proved to be a valuable second break in the next. Once again, he played two loose volleys in a row to face deuce before stretching his lead to 5-1, but some sizzling returns of serve and a magical lob from Kamke took one break back. That was his last hurrah, though, and Federer closed the match, 6-3.
So it turned into rather more of a workout than Federer may have expected, in what was a surprisingly intense competition. But perhaps it was only right that he was made to work for his supper, since the win took the Swiss to two more milestones in his career. This was his 50th victory at Roland Garros and, which gave him particular pleasure, his 233rd Grand Slam match win, taking him level with Jimmy Connors’ record.
“It’s a big record, because that was longevity. Jimmy is obviously one of the greats of all time, and was around for 20 years…I have been so successful for such a long time and to already tie that record, which is 30 years old, is pretty incredible, so I’m very happy.”
There was more good news for Federer as a sequence of tricky early opponents fell by the wayside to leave him with no remaining seeds in his eighth.
Federer’s second round opponent, David Nalbandian, lost to the 92-ranked Adrian Ungur, following Andy Roddick out of this segment. And both potential fourth-round seeds are also out: Radek Stepanek to a lucky loser and Feliciano Lopez to injury.
Roland Garros’s second hot and sultry day of ambers and greens, of a smoky record-breaker and a sparky German, of streams of Frenchmen and a newly-garbed Serbian No1, brought no more major upsets, but there was one more fond farewell to an old familiar No1 face.
Lleyton Hewitt, sidelined so often by injuries in recent years, was making his 12th appearance at Roland Garros. Not since his first did he lose in the first round—until today.