Roger Federer was the last man not named Rafael Nadal to win the French Open; he's also the No. 2 seed in the 2013 draw and has advanced to the third round of the Grand Slam tournament, breezing past Somdev Devvarman and Pablo Carreño-Busta.
His third-round match against French-born Julien Benneteau should be a fierce test to avenge an ATP Tour loss from earlier this season. It will also gauge how close the Swiss star is to moving into at least the fourth round for the ninth-straight year and if he can contend for the Grand Slam title in early June.
Roland Garros' official Twitter account had the post as Federer cruised into the third round and his next opponent was confirmed on Wednesday:
Federer steamrolls Devvarman, winning 6-2 6-1 6-1 on Court Suzanne Lenglen in 82 minutes. Will face Benneteau next #RG13— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 29, 2013
The match will mark a redux of sorts for tennis faithful, as both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds (Novak Djokovic being the top player in the draw) will square off against an opponent that beat them during the last 12 months.
Federer drew Benneteau after the Frenchman secured a five-set victory over Tobias Kamke, and Djokovic drew Grigor Dimitrov in his third-round match to be held when play continues over the next few days.
As noted by Matt Zemek on Twitter, we almost had a complete Wimbledon re-do of sorts, as the draw favored both Federer and Nadal opponents from the 2012 Wimbledon to be around in the third round of the 2013 French Open (Lukas Rosol did not end up advancing):
A strong 2012 Wimbledon flavor could be coming to Roland Garros this weekend: 1 win away from Nadal-Rosol and Federer-Benneteau rematches.— Matt Zemek (@mzemek) May 27, 2013
FedEx certainly hasn't been short on public confidence since advancing past Devvarman, tweeting about the Eiffel Tower and taking self portraits atop the French landmark while he awaits the results of the rest of the second round to play out.
He did, however, speak to the press following his latest straight-set win in a major tournament, admitting that Benneteau would be a tough test for just how much his game is clicking on the clay courts of Roland Garros this year (via Live Tennis):
I think I'm playing okay...You know, definitely think the next match is going to be sort of the big test for me to see exactly where I stand. I'm happy that I was, you know, 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 waited for mistakes. So I took it to my opponent, and I think that's what's good about it. But really I think I only know more after the Benneteau match, to be quite honest.
Two career losses on hard court to Benneteau—the most recent coming at ATP Rotterdam—and a tough match last year at Wimbledon—which FedEx ultimately won in epic, five-set fashion—makes getting to the fourth round at the 2013 French Open anything but a given.
As noted by Yeshayahu Ginsburg of TennisGrandstand.com, the biggest question heading into the match is if Benneteau can make Federer look human again when he's serving. Federer served only 56 percent of his first-serve attempts in the box at Rotterdam, and converted only 33 percent of his second-serve chances to boot.
Although we don't know Benneteau's specific strategy heading into this match, expect him to push Federer to the limit in front of a friendly crowd of French supporters.
Benneteau won both of the first two sets at Wimbledon last year before folding over the final three frames, but he showed the poise and consistency that he lacked on the grass on the hard court (arguably Federer's best surface) at Rotterdam. Breaking Federer's serve and avoiding unforced errors, Benneteau took advantage of a less-than-par Federer and leads the season series between the two men.
Federer's one saving grace is that Benneteau hasn't played consistent tennis since his upset win over the world's No. 3 player back in February.
As noted by Beyond the Baseline (a Sports Illustrated Twitter affiliate), Benneteau had not won back-to-back matches since his win over Federer. The first two rounds of the French Open changed that, but didn't change the fact that the Frenchman is not riding any sort of hot streak at the moment:
Since beating Roger Federer in Rotterdam in February, Julien Benneteau has not won back-to-back matches. #atp— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) May 24, 2013
Another interesting fact to monitor is that FedEx's first-round opponent, Carreño-Busta, has a win over Benneteau this year in Portugal. Federer beat him in straight sets during the opening round. Simon Chambers posted the tweet to verify:
Pablo Carreno-Busta, Roger Federer's R1 opponent has won 7 Futures events in 2013 and beat Benneteau, Goffin & Fognini in Portugal this year— Simon Cambers (@scambers73) May 25, 2013
Clearly, Benneteau was not at his best heading into the French Open. Failing to win two matches in a row never sits well with a tennis pro, and Federer's win over a common opponent is a good sign for the higher-seeded player heading into a single-elimination match.
But this is the French Open—anything can happen.
Federer will rely on his 2009 win over an emerging Benneteau at the French Open and the positives from his Wimbledon triumph to tide him over in this match. He will also likely put high emphasis on getting his first serve in play and avoiding a letdown when on the attack—two areas that gave the Frenchman the upper hand at Rotterdam.
Who wins this match?
With Benneteau looking to get past the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2008—at the French Open, no less—and Federer looking to avoid a pre-quarterfinals upset for the first time since 2004, something has to give at Roland Garros.
For FedEx, a tough match against Benneteau will serve as a gauge for his progress so far at the French Open, a chance for some personal revenge against one of his 2013 losses and most importantly, the gift of moving on to the next round.
We'll see just how much of a test Benneteau can provide for the 17-time Grand Slam champion at his worst (by the numbers, only one career win) Grand Slam event.
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