One of Roger Federer’s 5-year-old twin daughters had her nose buried in a comic book. The other was glued to a mobile phone. Shame, really, that they didn’t look up, because the tennis their father wove on the French Open center court verged on art.
The canvas for Federer’s strokes, the backhand as smooth as a cat’s paw and the forehand with crackle and pop, was Damir Dzumhur. The 23-year-old, the first Bosnian man to play at a major tournament, idolizes the 17-time Grand Slam champion. He had to pinch himself as they warmed up in a chilly breeze for their third-round match Friday.
“Strange feeling,” Dzumhur said later. “Like I’m dreaming.”
But Federer hitting this well: nightmare. He gave Dzumhur just 1 hour 29 minutes of his time. The 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win put Federer into the last 16 for the 11th consecutive year at the only major tournament he hasn’t won multiple times.
Although Maria Sharapova, by her admission, lacks Federer’s artistry, the defending women’s champion was the portrait of grit against 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, winning 6-3, 6-4.
That puts Sharapova into the fourth round for the fifth consecutive year. The post-match on-court interview unfortunately focused on the five-time Grand Slam winner’s outfit — white shirt with blue stripes — as much as the solid tennis that got her over the obstacles of Stosur, a nagging cough and the wind that fiddled with Sharapova’s hair and ball toss.
“Coming to Paris, you want be tres chic,” she said gamely.
No one asked Federer about his clothes. Although, in this fashion capital, they should. His pink shorts were so bright they left lingering spots on the back of the eyes when stared at too long.
Thankfully, his tennis was distracting. A volley winner in the fourth game — one of 24 successful excursions to the net for Federer — oozed assurance. A backhand two games later drew an appreciative “oooh” from the crowd.
Even after three rounds without dropping a set, it would be premature to froth about Federer’s chances of providing a companion for his solitary French Open title, in 2009. But he is moving well, and not just for a 33-year-old.
Federer is too respectful of opponents to say such a thing, but there were times against Dzumhur where the match looked more like a sparring session to prepare him for later, tougher rounds. The younger Bosnian grunted from the exertion of trying to keep up; Federer made no sound. After serving out the first set, he wiped his brow more out of habit than need. But his road steepens from here.
“I’m not always as relaxed as one might think,” Federer said. “Because there’s a lot to play for.”
The glint of delight in the eyes of Ana Ivanovic told that story. The 2008 French Open champion is into the fourth round at a major tournament for the first time since the Australian Open last year.
Ivanovic was miffed with her sluggishness, pushed to three sets both times, in her first two matches. Against Donna Vekic, the seventh-seeded Serb hit overdrive, winning 6-0, 6-3 in 53 minutes. Her French language skills are limited, but she knows a phrase that handily describes her performance: “tres bien.”
She may have to be tres, tres bien against her fourth-round opponent, Ekaterina Makarova, seeded ninth. Sharapova next plays Lucie Safarova, the first left-hander in her path this time and a Wimbledon semifinalist last year.
“A tough one,” Sharapova said. “Lefties are always tricky.”
Federer would agree. Still, the trickiest lefty of them all — nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal — is on the opposite side of the draw, meaning the rivals with 31 Grand Slam titles between them could meet only in the June 7 final, if they get that far.
Dzumhur was an unknown for Federer, since they’d not played before. But Federer is very familiar with Gael Monfils, whom he plays next for the fourth time at the French. Monfils advanced 4-6, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 against Pablo Cuevas. Monfils is making a habit of five-setters at the French: This was his 13th in 10 years.
“I’m a phoenix,” he said.
But the Frenchman, seeded 13th, has yet to beat Federer here. If Monfils cannot unlock that riddle, Federer will be looking at a quarterfinal against either another Frenchman, 12th-seeded Gilles Simon, or eighth-seeded Stan Wawrinka.