NEW YORK (AP) — Before Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka work their artistry on the court, Julien Farel works his artistry on their hair.
For eight straight U.S. Opens, he's been the tournament's official hairstylist, operating a pop-up salon in the inner sanctum of Arthur Ashe Stadium that offers manicures, pedicures, makeup and, of course, cuts, styles and braids for every participant, free of charge.
"Hair is power," says Farel, a dashing, perfectly coiffed Frenchman who pronounces it "powuuuurrr."
"If they look good, if their hair looks good, they go out on the court with confidence," he says. "If you look good, you play good."
That mantra, and a dose of player superstition, has helped beat a path to Farel's chair.
Farel proudly posts pictures on Twitter of his interactions with the game's biggest stars. He recalls how Ana Ivanovic, "a very pretty girl," let him add her first hint of highlights. How Djokovic confided his team's training secrets. ("They wake him up in the night to feed him a steak so he gets his protein.") And how Murray got his hair cut before this year's tournament because of the stylist's good-luck je ne sais quoi.
"Everybody knows I cut Rafael Nadal's hair from long to short — I did that," Farel says of the 2010 U.S. Open. "And that year he actually won the tournament. It was the first time."
Was the hair the reason?
Farel just smiles.
Farel, who previously cut hair for players at the French Open, says he worked for four years after coming to the U.S to get the Flushing Meadows salon contract.
It's a chance for him to build his brand — he owns four salons, including his 10,000-square-foot flagship at the Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue — and it gives players, their coaches and other tournament VIPs a valuable perk. His team's gratis cuts would ordinarily start at $120 and go up to $650 for men and $900 for women.
For 21 days, before and during the tournament, the temporary salon just outside the players' gym is staffed by seven hair, nail and makeup specialists who take care of about 50 people a day, and not just the stars.
"At every Grand Slam, I treat myself," says Michael Jeremiasz, a French player in the wheelchair tournament, as a stylist snipped his black locks. "It's a privilege to have access to all this."
Before NCAA champion Danielle Rose Collins made her U.S. Open debut, in Arthur Ashe Stadium no less, she got the full hair, nail and beauty treatment. Not only did she take a set off No. 2-seeded Simona Halep in a first-round loss, she also picked up some new fans who saw her 'do on television.
"People messaged me: 'Your hair looks great. Your ponytail is so bouncy,'" says the 20-year-old blonde. "I'm like, thanks, Julien."
Farel, a fan of the game, says the thrill for him is seeing a player on TV "and then you have a chance to put your hand into their hair and make them look good." But it's not just about big names.
"People are people and people are beautiful," he said. "For me, it is not about having an attitude. ... The people you take care of today might be the superstar of tomorrow — you never know."
There still is a superstar of today who remains the one who got away.
"Roger Federer," Farel says with a shrug. "He has never come into the salon.
"Roger has fantastic hair."