FOR a man who is travelling with four children, a small gaggle of nannies and a light sprinkling of grandparents, Roger Federer is looking remarkably calm.
The Federer family caravan rolled into town at the beginning of last week giving the former champion’s three-week-old twin sons, Leo and Lenny, their first taste of life on tour. Federer’s twin daughters, Myla and Charlene, are old hands at this grand slam lifestyle and are demanding as much of his time as usual, but somehow the serene Federer takes it all in his stride: the boys sleep a lot, his wife does all the hard work and he can get on with the relatively simple business of winning tennis matches.
He made it look all too simple yesterday as he opened his French Open campaign with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, 84-minute dismissal of Lukas Lacko. As easy starts go, this was positive child’s play for the new father of four: Federer was as good as he had to be (a handful of unforced errors here, a double fault there) and Lacko was lousy.
“Everything is great,” Federer beamed. “I’m happy I got off to a good start for the tournament here in Paris. There’s always that little bit of feeling that if you don’t feel well, if the opponent plays great, whatever happens so you could lose early. So I was happy getting early signs out of the match that I was actually playing well and I was going to get my chances I was looking for. I’m very pleased with the outcome of the match, very satisfied. My personal life, as we know, it’s all great, so I’m happy the family is here.” The arrival of his second set of twins interrupted his clay court season and after playing in Monte Carlo, he missed the Madrid Masters to be at the birth and then lost his only match in Rome the following week. Yet, the lack of match play has been balanced by the extra time he has managed to get on the practise court. Normally at this time of year, the tournaments come thick and fast and he, like everyone else, struggles to find the time to do any solid training.
This year, he has had his time in the gym and doing his drills and he is feeling fitter and stronger than he has for a while. That, he believes, can only bode well for his challenge at Roland Garros and at Wimbledon in a month’s time. “Because I was home and it gave me more time to train,” he said, “I have become again a touch stronger in the last few weeks and months really, which was important after the year I had last year that I do take those opportunities when I have them to work very hard.
“Then after Rome it was more just staying in the rhythm and relaxing again before Paris and Halle and Wimbledon. It’s an important stretch now for me, and I don’t want to come into this tournament, you know, uninspired or tired. That will be the worst thing. So for me it’s really about being fresh mentally more than anything at this point.”
With Ernests Gulbis potentially waiting for him in the fourth round and Tomas Berdych seeded to meet him in the quarter-finals, he will need his wits about him to make progress. And that is before he can even think about facing Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. But for the moment, the densely populated former world No 1 can breathe and relax – he will not play again for a couple of days and so can take his turn with the 3am feed and changing a few nappies before he faces Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, a qualifier from Argentina, in the second round.
Serena Williams, too, can allow herself a little bit of breathing space. As is her wont, she found herself suffering from stage fright as she began thedefence of her title but soon overcame the problem to trounce her friend, Alize Lim, 6-2, 6-1. Lim trains at the Mouratoglou Academy in Paris,the training ground owned and run by Patrick Mouratoglou who also doubles as Williams’s coach.
“I was a little nervous, like I always am in my first round. It’s kind of always hard for me to shake those nerves and go from there,” said Williams.
“Alize and I just go to dinner every now and then. She’s been just getting so much better, and she just made up her mind that she wanted to compete and be one of the best. I’m really proud of her.”
Proud, yes; generous, no.Williams may not have been at her best – 36 unforced errors saw to that – but she refused to give Lim so much as a hint of a chance.