Monte Carlo may sound like the perfect honeymoon destination, but this was probably not what Mirka Vavrinec had envisaged. Having married in Switzerland on Saturday, the bride flew here yesterday with her groom so that he could go straight back to work. Business is business, especially when your husband is the world's most famous tennis player and there is an important tournament in the offing.
Vavrinec and Roger Federer, who is playing here in this week's Monte Carlo Masters, met nine years ago at the Sydney Olympics. She has been his constant companion ever since, helping to run his business affairs and supporting him from the side of courts around the world. The couple recently announced they were expecting their first child this summer and on Saturday they married in Federer's home town of Basle.
The wedding was a closely kept secret, with Federer making a simple announcement on his official website. "Dear fans," he said. "Earlier today, in my hometown of Basle, surrounded by a small group of close friends and family, Mirka and I got married. It was a beautiful spring day and an incredibly joyous occasion. Mr and Mrs Roger Federer wish all of you a happy Easter weekend."
News of the wedding came as a surprise to almost everyone. "I had no idea it was happening," one of Federer's closest associates said here yesterday. "I texted him as soon as I heard. He texted back to say he was over the moon and that it was the best day of his life."
The wedding probably explains why Federer had initially chosen to miss this week's tournament, which is the traditional start of the European clay-court season. On Thursday last week, however, the world No 2, presumably with the blessing of his bride-to-be, successfully requested a wild card. Federer joins nine of the world's top 10 players, including Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. Those two yesterday interrupted their preparations to play an exhibition match to publicise the tournament.
Murray is getting used to these occasions: this year he has played tennis with Venus Williams on the roof of a car in Miami, piloted an 80ft luxury yacht in front of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai and posed on top of the O2 Arena in London.
Yesterday, the world No 4 was wielding a racket in an equally spectacular setting, playing on a miniature court built on the square in front of the Prince's Palace, the official residence of Monaco's royal family. Prince Albert himself greeted the two players, whose T-shirts and jeans were in strict contrast to the suits of the officials beside the court.
The palace was founded in 1191, which was so long ago that it even pre-dates Nadal's domination on clay. The world No 1 has won this tournament four times in succession. "My record here isn't quite the same as Rafa's, but I've been practising hard, so hopefully this year will be a bit better," Murray told the crowd in the Place du Palais.
While Murray has been the game's most successful player since Wimbledon last year – he has won more matches in that time than even Nadal – he has yet to prove he can live with the best on clay. Since joining the senior tour, the 21-year-old Scot has never won more than two matches in a row on his least favourite surface.
Nevertheless, Murray is in exceptional form, having lost only twice this year, and has the added incentive of trying to overhaul Novak Djokovic as world No 3. The Serb, who is just 170 points ahead of Murray, has 450 to defend here compared with Murray's 150, which means that the British No 1 is certain to overtake him if he at least matches his performance.
The tournament started yesterday, but the top eight players all have byes. Murray, who is in the same half of the draw as Nadal, first plays either Romania's Victor Hanescu or Spain's Alberto Martin. He could then meet Tomas Berdych or Marin Cilic followed by Nikolay Davydenko or David Nalbandian in the quarter-finals.
Alex Corretja, a former French Open finalist, has again joined Murray's coaching team for the clay-court season and was overseeing his training session on a practice court yesterday.
"I'll just try and work on my game like I have done on all the other surfaces," Murray said. "I have found clay tough in the last few years, but my game definitely got better last year."