Confident Federer out to complete the set
By Mark Hodgkinson in Paris
The striking posters around Roland Garros introduce "la nouvelle generation", the French teenagers dressed up 1920s-style with Tatiana Golovin in the furs and stockings of Suzanne Lenglen, and Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils modelling the cream suits and wooden rackets of the Four Musketeers. All so tongue-in-chic, history is being reworked and blown up to life-size.
The sense of history is palpable at the French Open this year, with Roger Federer, the leading talent of his generation, attempting to become the sixth man to win all four of the Grand Slam events. He would join Don Budge and Andre Agassi of the United States, Roy Emerson and Rod Laver of Australia, and Britain's Fred Perry in their elite group. That is some company for the 23-year-old Swiss.
Rafael Nadal aside, the main point of discussion yesterday was whether Federer had it in him to win on the red clay of Paris. He won the other three Grand Slam titles last season, taking his career tally to four, but he has a distinctly average record at Roland Garros, with his best finish, a quarter-final appearance, coming in 2001. He has three first-round defeats from his six visits.
The record seems inexplicable, given that Federer has such an extraordinary array of shots at his disposal, was nurtured on the surface in Basle, and five of his 28 titles have come on clay. His form in Hamburg, the final warm-up event, looked ominous for his rivals, and he announced here that he was "confident" of completing the sweep of grand slam events.
However he said that patience might be required. Federer bridled at suggestions that he might have a psychological block when it comes to Roland Garros. "Everybody keeps asking me why I haven't won the French Open, and I don't understand why. I agree that it's the only grand slam event that I haven't won, but I did win three others last year. You can't just expect to win them all right away. You have to be a little patient," he said.
But Federer does have an issue with "the strange dimensions" of the Philippe Chatrier Court, a problem he has been trying to rectify by practising in the stadium every day since arriving on Tuesday. He has previously looked disorientated there, and it was only last year that he won on the court for the first time. "If I am going to win, I need to get used to the court," he said.
Federer, who plays Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela today, has lost just two matches this year, and held match points on both occasions, against Marat Safin in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and Gasquet in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals. His projected semi-final against Nadal, the Spanish teenager and favourite, promises a few pyrotechnics.
Tim Henman will today play Juan Pablo Brzezicki, an Argentine lucky loser from the qualifying competition, after Italian Potito Starace withdrew with a twisted ankle. Brzezicki will be making his first appearance on the tour proper. "The only thing I know about him is that his name is tricky to write," Henman said. Greg Rusedski plays Flavio Saretta, a Brazilian lucky loser, tomorrow.
French Open draw: Sport 10
16 May 2005: Federer smooths way to Paris