PARIS – Thank heaven for girls and dresses -- it wasn't quite what Maurice Chevalier was singing about in Gigi but it just about summed up what saved Roland Garros from dissolving into a soggy non-event on the fourth day of the French Open.
For, during that brief period when the sun shone and the clouds held their rain, Venus Williams strode on the Phillipe Chatrier Court in a creation that had the fashion experts in a tizz, youngsters with eyes wide open (there were plenty of them because it was Kids' Day) and members of the ladies locker room muttering (I presume, because I don't have entry) things like, "How does she do it?"
With a bit of flair, a little bravery and a great sense of who she is and what she wants her second career to become must be amongst the answers. For an expert description of this eye-catching number you will have to turn to a newspaper's fashion page but Venus, who defeated Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2, 6-4 in the second round on Wednesday looking more like a tennis player than a fashion plate, was well capable of describing it herself.
"I mean, I guess for my designs, a lot of it has been about the illusion of bareness," she said in that disarmingly frank way of hers. "My last dress, the red one, the Can-Can dress, it wasn't about illusion. It was about the design. For me, it's just been pushing myself as a designer, too. I push myself on the court and off the court. So, yeah."
Yeah, indeed. It was not just the dress but the undergarments which match the color of her skin which brought most of the gasps.
"I had no idea that it would, first of all, match so well my skin. I had no idea. So I was just going for, in Australia, the illusion of the slit. It went to a whole other level to the point I was getting calls from my publicist in the middle of the night."
She shouldn't really have been surprised. But Venus always manages to convey just a trace of innocence of the "Who? Me?" variety. She's very good at it, whether you buy the act or not. Personally, I believe she knows exactly what she is doing and is happy to let the chips fall where they may.
"First of all I try to represent what I think my personality is on the court," she said when asked to explain the design process. "The second part is that sometimes you just dream it up. Like, I'm dying to do lace. How can we do that on court and make it work? During the design process I'm nervous about, OK, is that going to move and get in the way of my racket? When it doesn't I'm excited. It was a challenge but it worked."
Venus loves a challenge like all champions and she has certainly hit the mark here. Whether everybody loves the dress is beside the point. It's getting talked about and photographed by every snapper in town. Job done.
Roger Federer got the job done, too. Following Venus onto Chatrier, the defending champion had to adjust his game to the different conditions -- colder, damper, heavier -- but came through against Colombia's Alejandro Falla 7-6, 6-2, 6-4. At first, Federer did not find it easy.
"You know the texture of the clay changes drastically when there is no sun," he explained. "Conditions slow down a lot. So that was a bit of adjustment I had to make at the start. The ball travels differently. I don't know how to explain it. I guess it travels faster through the court, so I hit a slice that's a bit floating. In these conditions it stays in the court. In the other one, it just travels out by a meter. This is the kind of stuff you feel."
Tough to know how it feels to be Roger Federer on a tennis court, but he does try to give you an insight with all the patience for which the Swiss are famous.
But he can be amusing, too, as he ribs the media for their persistent pursuit of a story line. After being questioned about the rumors of the French Open being moved from its Roland Garros home because of outdated facilities, Roger shot back, "The poor guys (French officials) are getting hammered, eh? Yeah, we need a roof badly. Tomorrow, if possible. What can I say? It would be great to have a roof. But this is how the game has been played for decades. We're used to walking on and off court and being flexible about these kind of things."
Laid back as ever, the champion moves on to round three.