You had to feel some sympathy for the organisers of this week's Masters Guinot Mary Cohr exhibition tournament here at the Paris Country Club. Many players come to the swish setting in a corner of Saint-Cloud racecourse to warm up for the French Open and until two days ago officials were rubbing their hands at the prospect of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Lleyton Hewitt playing in the event. By lunchtime yesterday all three had pulled out.
Murray was the last to withdraw, just hours before his scheduled match yesterday afternoon against Michael Llodra, after suffering what the tournament organisers described as "a slight problem" in training during the morning. Murray left after making his apologies to sponsors and officials. His withdrawal was precautionary and he does not expect to have any problem making it to the start line at Roland Garros. The year's second Grand Slam event begins on Sunday, while the draw will be made this morning.
Djokovic and Hewitt had pulled out 24 hours earlier. Djokovic said he needed more rest, which is no surprise given the fact that he has won all 37 matches he has played this year and has played for the last three weeks in succession, in Belgrade, Madrid and Rome. Hewitt has not played since March following foot surgery and said he needed more time to recuperate.
There are differing views among the top players as how best to prepare for a Grand Slam tournament, where the possibility of playing seven best-of-five-set matches over a fortnight means they need to arrive in the best physical condition.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal usually head for the practice courts. Federer was practising here on Court Philippe Chatrier as early as Monday, having made an early exit from last week's Rome Masters. Nadal tends to practise back home in Majorca until a few days before the competition begins.
Some players, nevertheless, choose to play in competitive tournaments in the preceding week. David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Nicolas Almagro have been among those competing in a tournament in Nice this week. Andy Roddick had planned to join them until a shoulder injury forced him to withdraw.
Robin Soderling, Mikhail Youzhny and Mardy Fish, meanwhile, have chosen to play in the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf, where the format ensures that each player is guaranteed at least three matches during the week. Murray has prepared for the Australian Open at the Hopman Cup in Perth for similar reasons in the last two years.
The strongest field anywhere this week is at the women's tournament in Brussels, where Caroline Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva, Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic have all been playing. Wozniacki, the world No 1, is playing in her 11th tournament of the year; Nadal, the men's No 1, has played in eight tournaments, one more than both Djokovic and Murray.
"If I feel like playing tournaments, I do that," Wozniacki said. "If I feel like having a break, I do that. I like to be in the tournament mode. I like to play matches. That's when I play my best, when I get a lot of matches in."
Kim Clijsters would no doubt prefer to have played more matches in the build-up to Roland Garros, but the Belgian will begin her campaign having not hit a ball in competition for two months. The US Open champion injured her ankle while dancing at her cousin's wedding. "I will be able to take part as long as I have some very tight strapping on my ankle," Clijsters said.
For those who have to go through the ordeal of qualifying, the competition here is already well under way. Britain's Heather Watson, celebrating her 19th birthday, won for the second day in succession yesterday, beating Australia's Sally Peers 6-3, 7-5. The world No 119, aiming to play in her first Grand Slam tournament away from Wimbledon, now faces Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele, who beat Japan's Misaki Doi 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Watson, who is hoping to join her fellow Britons Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong in the main draw, said: "I'm really chuffed and it's my birthday today so now it's time to celebrate, but not too much because I've got to rest up and get ready for my third round tomorrow."