Published May 29, 2013
PARIS – Now things could get a little more interesting for Roger Federer.
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 while accumulating a 54-12 edge in winners.
It really was something of a laugher, especially with Federer serving at 4-0 in the final set. He hit a first serve well out, and both players waited for the linesman to make a call — which he finally did, albeit after a long delay. Federer and Devvarman chuckled, looked at each other, and chuckled some more. As Federer prepared to hit his second serve, he needed to pause because he couldn't regain his composure.
Otherwise, little troubled him as he 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 of Germany. Ahead by two sets and at 5-all in the third, Benneteau dropped 10 games in a row before righting himself.
Even putting that aside, Benneteau explained, "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."
Same must be said when facing another past French Open champion, Serena Williams, who has been challenged about as much as Federer has.
Williams extended her career-high winning streak to 26 matches by defeating French wild-card entry Caroline Garcia 6-1, 6-2 Wednesday. 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.
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 — 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.
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