French Open 2015: Swiss Federer and Wawrinka lead record over-30s onward

There are 39 men in the French Open singles main draw aged over 30 for the first time, writes Marianne Bevis

This year’s French Open had already claimed one unheralded record this year by the time the first ball had been hit.

There are 39 men in the singles main draw aged over 30 for the first time, beating Roland Garros’s own record from last year. And on the opening day, 14 of them were in action.

Perhaps that was at the back of the scheduler’s mind when they chose one of the oldest of them to open the men’s competition on centre court, Philippe Chatrier: World No2 Roger Federer.

At 33 years and 303 days, the remarkable Swiss, who already has three titles along with two Masters finals runs this year, opened against an old adversary, another of the ‘over-30’ band, Alejandro Falla. But Federer was not just carrying the banner for the mature men in Paris, he was setting records on the broader Grand Slam stage, too.

This is his 62nd consecutive Major, ensuring he is the only man to have played in every Major this century. And as it is also his 64th Major in total, he takes the overall lead over his peers.

What may surprise more fans is that Federer is second only to the nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in the all-time list of matches played and won at the French Open: 61 wins to Nadal’s 66, with Guillermo Vilas third with 58.

And yet to see Federer’s performance against Falla, he is clearly still hungry for more, and wasted little time in dismissing a man who, as recently as last summer, took Federer to two tie-breaks in the final of Halle, and famously led the Swiss by two sets to one in the first round of Wimbledon in 2010.

The Swiss was on song from the start, looking sharp, aggressive and fluid. It took him an hour and three-quarters to seal his 62nd win here, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, though it could have been even faster had he converted more of his 15 break-points. As it was, he fired 42 winners past Falla, chased to the net and fired off a few crowd-pleasing smashes, and earned himself a second-round match against
Marcel Granollers.

While Federer was plying his trade on centre court, the 30-year-old Stan Wawrinka was doing much the same on Suzanne Lenglen. He also hit 42 winners past Marsel Ilhan to advance, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, in one hour and 36 minutes.

Wawrinka’s season has been something of a rollercoaster over the last six months, and until causing an upset in Rome last week, where he beat Nadal, he had not won back-to-back matches since winning the indoor 500 in Rotterdam in February.

But there have been distinct signs of a return to form for last year’s Australian Open and Monte-Carlo champion. For back in 2014, he had boosted many a maturing Major-less player in proving that age is no barrier to tennis stardom: Just ask 33-year-old David Ferrer and 29-year-old Tomas Berdcych who have each reached Grand Slam finals but remain committed to the ultimate prize.

But to opening Sunday. Another over-30 to sail through to Round 2 were Philipp Kohlschreiber, who blasted past Go Soeda, 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 in a scant hour and a half—the third one-hander, with Federer and Wawrinka, to light up the clay.

The fourth, another single-handed veteran, was 33-year-old wild card, Nicolas Mahut, a straight-sets winner over Kimmer Coppejans. However a fifth—both over 30 and a single-hander—was less fortunate. Mikhail Youzhny was forced to retire injured with a back problem.

Federer and Wawrinka are, further down the line, scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals, a possible replay of their meeting earlier this month in the Rome semis. So what did these two put the rising curve of successful 30-somethings down to?

Federer first: “Well, experience helps in the sense that you’re more relaxed, I’d say. Entering a tournament like this, you know how to prepare. You go into a first-round match like today in a calm manner without any panic, whereas maybe 10 years or more ago, you’re so worried about everything, you hope that you did the right things, you hope that you’re gonna play okay, you hope your opponent is not going to play the best.

“And today it’s enough for me to focus on my game. I know that my preparation is good. It’s not like I hope. So that is all gone.

“And it’s nice to see I’m not the only guy over 30 still playing, you know, because I know so many guys from the junior times or for over 10, 15 years now on tour. It’s a lot of fun actually seeing all those guys around.”

Wawrinka, added: “So in the past, we thought that players, when they reach 30, their career was over, but it’s totally different. I would say that I’m at the top of my career even though I’m 30 years of age.

“Ten years ago when I arrived on tour, the situation was different. Most of the players ended their career when they were 30, but things have changed totally. Young players can reach the top at a later stage.”

Tomorrow, another clutch will try their luck. No12 seed Gilles Simon and No32 seed Fernando Verdasco, No11 Feliciano Lopez and No18 Tommy Robredo—all quality players who should also advance to the second round but will not see their 30th birthday again.

And add in former top-10 players Juan Monaco, 36-year-old Radek Stepanek, and 34-year-old Jurgen Melzer, and there could be even more old, familiar faces in the Roland Garros melting pot.

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