Defeat to John Isner at Wimbledon in 2010 wasn’t the end of Mahut, rather it served as the turning point in the Frenchman’s inspiring career.
Winning his first two outings at Roland Garros this week, Federer reached his 400th grand slam match when he took to the court against Casper Ruud on Friday. No player has ever done that.
Had he bypassed the French Open for Wimbledon – the grand slam he is most commonly associated with thanks to eight titles – SW19 would have housed the feat.
And when he beat the fast rising Ruud 6-3 6-1 7-6 (10-8) on Suzanne Lenglen, the 37-year-old also became the oldest man to make the fourth round at the French Open since Italian Nicola Pietrangeli almost 50 years ago in 1972.
“It’s true I played many matches in grand slam tournaments, and it’s even more pleasant to do this in Roland Garros, because I have a lot of records, milestones from Wimbledon or the US Open,” Federer told reporters. “But doing anything in Roland is very special, because I played a lot here. It was my first grand slam where I was in the main draw.”
His friend and rival on court the last 15 years, Rafael Nadal, later dropped his first set of the tournament. But 10 years to the day the king of clay was stunned by Robin Soderling in Paris, the 11-time champion still looked sharp in a 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3 win over a former finalist at the year-end championships, David Goffin.
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Federer’s staying power in tennis is summed up nicely by the fact that when he competed in that first French Open in 1999, Ruud’s dad Christian featured in the draw.
Despite his lack of practice on clay in recent years, Federer has made it look easy this week in Paris.
Ruud – who admitted to being a bigger fan of Nadal growing up and trains at the Spaniard’s academy in Mallorca – feels most at home on clay hitting his booming ground strokes.
Array of shots
The Swiss kept the 63rd-ranked Norwegian completely off balance with his glittering array of shots.
He served and volleyed, threw in his patented short slice and defended superbly. There were gasps when the 20-time grand slam champion crushed a forehand passing shot in the fourth game of the second set, moments after he used the pace from a Ruud serve to deliver a laser like backhand return winner.
Not to mention a breathtaking backhand overhead.
Federer did have to work harder in the third set, recovering from 0-2 and subsequently needing to save a break chance at 3-4. In the tiebreak after missing out on two match points, he was forced to save a set point.
The relatively comfortable outing for Federer countered much of what else happened on a day when the sun finally made an appearance and temperatures climbed.
Indeed there was drama aplenty or in Nadal’s case, at least in the final two sets.
Goffin would likely still be inside the top 10 if not for injuries, a speedy baseliner who takes the ball on the rise and can pull shots out of nowhere.
Nadal dipped slightly in the third set – broken in the only game where he faced break chances – but predictably responded in the fourth. He clubbed an impressive 38 winners to 21 unforced errors.
Second seed Karolina Pliskova fell to the dangerous Petra Martic 6-3 6-3, becoming the latest women’s top contender to exit following Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.
French Open Day Six in pictures
The versatile Martic advanced to the fourth round at Roland Garros for the third time after winning her first title in Istanbul in April. This after her career almost ended in 2016 because of a back injury.
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Things began to get away from the big-serving Pliskova when she was broken from 40-0 at 3-3 in the first.
“I think she played well,” said Pliskova. “For sure I could do better.
“I should definitely not lose couple of serves in the first set when I was up in the games.”
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Twelfth seed Anastasia Sevastova courageously saved five match points in three different games to outlast Elise Mertens 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 11-9 in three hours, 18 minutes in the match immediately preceding Federer’s.
Sevastova – who initially quit the game in 2013 due to injuries prior to returning – fended off one match point with a sublime drop shot. On another, her backhand down the line barely caught the line.
“I was not thinking to lose,” said Sevastova, a semifinalist last year at the US Open. “I was thinking to win. So I had to do something.”
Sloane Stephens, the 2018 finalist, held four match points in a second set, didn’t take any of them yet took the decider to see off Polona Hercog 6-3 5-7 6-4.
Lesia Tsurenko, the 27th seed, earned a meeting with defending champion Simona Halep by completing a 7-5 5-7 11-9 victory over Aleksandra Krunic after darkness halted proceedings at 6-6 in the third set Thursday.
Krunic had trailed 4-1 in the third set, though later couldn’t serve the match out four times or convert a match point.
Tsurenko was chuffed to go through, especially after what she said was the trauma of turning 30 on Thursday.
“I start to think about that I’m 30, and I don’t have much time left to play on tour and all this bad things,” said Tsurenko, whose fellow Ukrainian Elina Svitolina exited against 2016 winner Garbine Muguruza. “Were not really bad, but just some not very good for match things probably was running into my head.
“And it was really tough mentally to play.”
If that was a crushing defeat for Krunic, the same could be said of Lucas Pouille’s reverse.
One of the home hopes to end France’s 35-year men’s drought at Roland Garros, the 22nd seed looked down and out against the predictably unpredictable Martin Klizan on Thursday. He trailed 2-1 in sets to the Slovak and 0-2, 0-40 on serve in the fourth.
The match also suspended because of bad light – the French Open lacks lights – Pouille rallied to build a 5-3 advantage in the fifth set, only to succumb 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-3 3-6 9-7.
In another extended battle 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori downed 31st seed Laslo Djere of Serbia 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 4-6 8-6, overturning a two-break deficit of 3-0 in the fifth.
Japan’s Nishikori improved to 22-6 in fifth sets while the Serb played his first.
Federer hasn’t had to worry about fifth sets just yet at Roland Garros.