By returning to the French Open this year after a three-year absence, Roger Federer is spreading his milestones across the tennis world.
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.
Federer’s staying power in tennis is summed up nicely by the fact that when he competed in his 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 Rafael 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 Federer 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.
Second seed Karolina Pliskova fell to the dangerous Petra Martic 6-3 6-3, becoming the latest top contender to exit following Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.
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.
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.”
Match point drama
Twelfth seed Anastasia Sevastova 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.
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.
Nadal will hope lightning fails to strike twice when he meets 27th-seed David Goffin. It was exactly 10 years ago that the Spaniard lost his first ever match at Roland Garros to Sweden’s Robin Soderling.
The result certainly aided Federer, who went on to win his lone French Open crown a week later.
Nadal won four French Open titles before then — and has won seven more since.