It was business as usual as the French Open got under way here today. There was chaos on the roads, this time after demonstrators took to the capital's streets to oppose same-sex marriages; the approaches to Roland Garros were lined by ticket touts; Roger Federer started his 15th successive appearance at the tournament by crushing a Grand Slam debutant for the loss of only seven games; and Lleyton Hewitt lost a five-set thriller. Even the weather, which is often poor in the first week, conformed to tradition, although it was the cold rather than rain that contributed to a generally subdued opening day.
The French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament that starts on a Sunday, but it remains a half-hearted affair, with matches staged on just eight of the 15 courts that will be in use from today. Federer was one of those who disapproved when the early start was introduced seven years ago and recalls being "forced" to play on the opening day in 2006 "to promote their Sunday thing".
Federer pointed out that Wimbledon completes in 13 days the same number of matches that take 15 days to get through in Paris. "It doesn't make sense," he said. "But I'm happy this time around. I told them if they wanted me to play Sunday, whatever, I'm fine with it. They took that opportunity right away."
Perhaps it was the draw for this year's tournament that put the Swiss in an accommodating mood. Having beaten one qualifier, Spain's Pablo Carreno-Busta, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, Federer now faces another in India's Somdev Devvarman. He cannot play Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic before the final and is on course for a semi-final meeting with David Ferrer, who opened his campaign with a straight-sets victory over Australia's Marinko Matosevic.
Federer, who is two tournaments short of breaking Wayne Ferreira's record of 56 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam events, needed only 80 minutes to sweep aside Carreno-Busta, who won seven successive Futures tournaments earlier this year but has played just five events at tour level. Since 2004, Federer has won 36 of his 38 first-round matches at Grand Slam tournaments in straight sets.
Hewitt's meeting with Gilles Simon, a fellow marathon man, was always likely to go the distance, though the Australian veteran threatened to run away with the match after taking the first two sets in just over an hour. Darren Cahill, Hewitt's one-time coach, said on Twitter that it was the best he had seen the former world No 1 play for eight years.
Simon, however, won the next two sets and raced into a 5-0 lead in the decider, only for Hewitt to stage a remarkable comeback. He saved two match points when trailing 5-2, levelled at 5-5, but then lost the next two games as Simon took the match 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5.
Hewitt said afterwards that his main aim this summer was to be "fresh physically and mentally for the grass season". That is much the same goal for Andy Murray, who after withdrawing from the French Open because of a back injury has already started his preparations for grass.
Murray said in an interview with ESPN: "I've been doing three hours of rehab and treatment every day to make sure it's as good as possible for the grass-court stretch, but I still have a process that I'm going through with the back to try and build up my training and practices and see if I have any setbacks or not. I'm not doing any movement on the court yet. I did 15 minutes the first day, 20 minutes the second day, just trying to build it up very slowly. Hopefully, by the grass-court season I'll be feeling better, but it's a process I have to be patient with."
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