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Federer gets defensive in Paris

Feat of clay? Roger Federer isn't the bookies' favourite to win the French Open, but would you bet against him? Keystone

Swiss tennis world number one Roger Federer has started defending his French Open title in Paris, winning his first game in straight sets.

Federer beat the Australian Peter Luczak 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Monday. He will now meet the Colombian Alejandro Falla.

The men’s draw to the tournament, which began on Sunday, has a familiar look: the 28-year-old top seed and his 23-year-old nemesis Rafael Nadal of Spain are separated by 126 other players – six wins each away from an eighth grand slam final clash.

“Another Federer-Nadal final would be extraordinary!” Alexandre Ahr, manager of Switzerland’s top-ranked woman player Timea Bacsinszky and himself a former national player, told

And who would win? “Impossible to answer!” he laughed. “The better player!”

Last year Federer beat Sweden’s Robin Söderling to become only the third man in the open era (post-1968) to win all four grand slam events.

Söderling had upset Nadal in the fourth round, ending the four-time champion’s record 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.

“Federer’s already got the title. He’s probably the greatest player of all time – if you look at his achievements in the big tournaments over the past six, seven years, it’s simply extraordinary. He breaks record after record,” Ahr said, pointing out that Federer’s been in 23 consecutive grand slam semifinals.

Paris, La Défense

But while Federer has finally got the French monkey off his back – he had been runner-up to Nadal for the previous three years – his clay-court preparations this year haven’t exactly run according to plan.

Last weekend he was beaten in the final of the Madrid Masters by Nadal, who became the first man to win clay titles at Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid in the same season.

Federer on the other hand went out in the second round in Rome to world number 40 Ernests Gulbis and then lost a semifinal in Estoril to Albert Montañés, ranked 34 in the world.

“I don’t think we should make too much out of those defeats,” Rolf Bühler, head of elite sport at the Swiss Tennis Association, told

“Roger has been number one for so long. His primary focus is the big tournaments. If a young player had experienced those losses, it would have been worse. I don’t have the feeling that it’s particularly serious for him,” he said.

“On the one hand it’s obviously good to win a few matches on clay before the French Open – it’s good for one’s self-confidence. But those players right at the top only really value the grand slams.”

“Great confidence”

Bühler also highlighted the difference between playing matches that last for a maximum of three sets and the grand slam events, which could last for five.

“First, physical shape plays a bigger role in a best-of-five match – you can only win if you’re really fit. Second, there are fewer surprises when playing best-of-five. If I only need two sets to win, I can play unbelievably well for one hour, the other player can’t get going and the match is over. Best-of-five matches last a while. Normally the favourite wins.”

Ahr agreed. “When I think of Federer at Roland Garros last year for example, against Tommy Haas [in the fourth round] he lost the first two sets and had a breakpoint against him at 4-3 and he still won. To beat Federer in five sets in a big tournament is not easy,” he said.

“He has this great confidence and is always very well prepared for the big tournaments. What’s more he has experience. In my opinion you’ve got to count on him once again this year at Roland Garros.”

So it’s not the beginning of the end for Federer? “Not at all. If you look at how old Agassi and Sampras were when they won [grand slam] tournaments [32 and 31 respectively], Federer’s still got a few good years left,” Bühler said.

“He’s top fit and at an age where his body hasn’t started to fade but he has a lot of experience. He’s got two or three years left.”

Numbers game

Federer is aiming for his 17th grand slam title and second this year, after beating Britain’s Andy Murray in the final of the Australian Open.

Nevertheless, the statistics aren’t looking so rosy. Nadal has played 15 matches on clay this year and has yet to lose; Federer has won only six of nine matches on the slow, red dirt this year.

What’s more, Nadal has a 14-7 overall record against Federer, 10-2 on clay. Of their seven grand slam meetings, Nadal has won five.

As Federer himself has said: “My problem isn’t clay; my problem’s Nadal.”

After losing in Madrid the Swiss said: “I wasn’t able to defend my title here today but I thought Rafa played an incredible clay-court season. I’m looking forward to Paris now. I’m happy with my clay-court game.”

Lest we forget…

Federer is one of six Swiss hoping for glory in Paris alongside 20th-seed Stanislas Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli (ranked 65) in the men’s draw and Timea Bacsinszky (43), Patty Schnyder (61) and Stefanie Vögele (76) in the women’s.

Vögele and Schnyder were drawn against the top two seeds Serena and Venus Williams respectively. Both Swiss were beaten in their first games, although Serena Williams stuttered after Vögele put up a fight. The American eventually prevailed 7-6, 6-2.

Chiudinelli won his game against Somdev Devvarman of India. Wawrinka and Bacsinszky are also through to the second round.

While Nadal has been seeded second, the bookmakers are in no doubt who they think will be lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires on June 6: Nadal is odds-on favourite (put five francs on him and if he wins you’ll get back a mere seven, including your stake).

Federer is hovering at around 4-1 (put one franc on him and you’ll get back a total of five). They are the only two players coming in at under 10-1, so there are good chances of a Nadal-Federer final.

Wawrinka will be aiming to get past the third round, where he’s fallen for the past two years. His odds have shortened from his usual 200-1 to 150-1.

One bookmaker was offering 5-1 on a Spaniard to win the French Open and Spain to win the World Cup, which kicks off in South Africa on June 11. wasn’t able to get any odds on a Swiss victory in both Paris and Johannesburg.

Thomas Stephens,

A player who holds all four grand slam titles – the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – at the same time is said to have achieved the Grand Slam. A “true” Grand Slam is when all titles are won in the same calendar year.

Rod Laver is the only male player in the open era (post-1968) to achieve a Grand Slam (which was also “true”), in 1969. Andre Agassi and Roger Federer have won all four titles but in different years (a career Grand Slam).

Grand slam titles (open era):
16: Roger Federer
14: Pete Sampras
11: Björn Borg
8: Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl

The French Open is the second grand slam event of the year and is held at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris.

It is taking place this year from May 23-June 6.

The 2010 French Open offered prize money of €16,807,400 ($24,065,000) up from €16,150,460 in 2009.

As in 2009 the event awarded equal prize money to men and women in all events. The male and female singles champions each receive €1,120,000, up from €1,060,000 last year.

The event began as a national tournament in 1891 as the Championnat de France International de Tennis.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR