After a pair of straightforward and straight-set victories at the French Open against qualifiers ranked outside the top 150, the 17-time major champion will face a seeded player, France’s Julien Benneteau, who not only already beat Federer once this year but also came within two points of upsetting him at Wimbledon, of all places, in 2012.
“I think I’m playing OK,” Federer said in something of an understatement, considering he’s dropped 11 games through six sets so far. “Definitely think the next match is going to be sort of the big test for me, to see exactly where I stand.”
There wasn’t much trouble for Federer in the second round Wednesday, when he beat two-time NCAA singles champion Somdev Devvarman 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 in less than 1½ hours.
Federer accumulated a 54-12 edge in winners, in part by moving forward to the net on 30 points.
“I’m happy that I was playing offensive and aggressive tennis in the first two matches, because I had the opportunity, but I didn’t back off and start to play passive tennis and wait for mistakes. So I took it to my opponent,” said Federer, the 2009 French Open champion. “But really, I think I’ll only know more after the Benneteau match, to be quite honest.”
Then again, Benneteau might not quite be the same guy who took the first two sets against Federer before losing in five on the grass of the All England Club nearly a year ago. Or the one who has beaten Federer twice in six meetings, including 6-3, 7-5 in February on an indoor hard court at Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The 30th-seeded Benneteau dealt with pain in his thigh Wednesday during a topsy-turvy 7-6 (9), 7-5, 5-7, 0-6, 6-4 win against Tobias Kamke. Ahead by two sets and at 5-all in the third, Benneteau dropped 10 games in a row before righting himself.
“Obviously it’s all pretty tricky, (playing) Federer. He breezed through the first two rounds. He plays very well. ... You know you’re going to have to really ramp up a gear,” Benneteau said.
Same must be said when facing another past French Open champion, Serena Williams.
She extended her career-high winning streak to 26 matches by defeating French wild-card entry Caroline Garcia 6-1, 6-2. A year after the only first-round Grand Slam exit of her career came in Paris, the American has lost four games in two matches.
Other women’s winners included two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova along with 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic and 2012 runner-up Sara Errani.
Former No. 1 and 2009 U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki, whose boyfriend is golf star Rory McIlroy, lost 7-6 (2), 6-3 to Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski.
No seeded men lost Wednesday, and so far only one of the top 16 has, No. 5 Tomas Berdych. Joining No. 2 Federer in the third round were No. 4 David Ferrer, No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 10 Marin Cilic, No. 11 Nicolas Almagro, No. 14 Milos Raonic, No. 15 Gilles Simon, and No. 18 Sam Querrey, an American who was 1-6 in his Roland Garros career before this year and 2-0 this week.
“I’m really excited. That was my goal coming in. I’ve never made it third round here,” said Querrey, who faces Simon next, “so anything past there is great.”
The man who eliminated Berdych, France’s Gael Monfils, followed that up by beating Ernests Gulbis 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2 <0x2014> and, much like a tourist, Monfils shot some video by which to remember the occasion.
During a changeover, Monfils got permission from the chair umpire to use his phone to film the fans doing the wave.
Monfils explained: “He tell me, ‘Sure, you can.’ So I say, ‘OK, I will tape it, like, quick.”
Later in the day, just as the Court Suzanne Lenglen crowd roared at the sight of Devvarman claiming one game when trailing 5-0 in his third set, the fans at Court Philippe Chatrier got loud when Garcia finally won a game after being down 5-0 in her first set.
“I need to work on my game to pose more problems for her next time I meet her,” Garcia said.
Williams won 32 of 39 service points, and while that’s become expected, she also showed tremendous touch with a perfect drop shot that barely cleared the net and nearly nestled right there in the clay in the second set’s second game.
Williams raised her left fist and looked up in the stands, where her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, shook his right fist.
“I was, like, ‘Yeah!’ I only hit drop shots in practice,” she said. “I never hit them in a match. ... It’s not a go-to shot.”
Garcia is ranked only 114th but much is expected of her. Against Maria Sharapova in the 2011 French Open, she won the first set and led 4-1 in the second before collapsing completely, losing the next 11 games and the match. Her performance was good enough to inspire Andy Murray to write on Twitter that Garcia “is going to be No. 1 in the world one day.”
For now, it’s Williams who holds that distinction in the rankings, and she certainly looks like someone intent on keeping it that way.
“It’s important for me to win easily,” said the 15-time major champion, who won the French Open in 2002. “It’s also important for me to play well. If I play well, it will bode well for me at Roland Garros.”
Speaking again in French to the crowd during a post-match interview, Williams was asked what she plans to work on in practice.
“I’d like to improve everything. My French, too,” she said.
Williams said she studied French “a long time ago” so she could use the language while traveling in Africa <0x2014> and “I decided that I wanted to win the French Open and speak French for my acceptance speech.”
A reporter wanted to know: That remains the plan?
“Still my plan,” Williams replied.