17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer is not used to going under the radar. This, to an extent, is exactly what is going on right at this moment as the French Open is taking place in Paris. All of the media’s attention is focused on seven-time defending champion Rafael Nadal and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and rightly so.
Nadal came back in February from an eight-month extended break and he did so with a roar. He is 37-2 on the year, has played eight tournaments thus far and has made the final at each of them, winning six titles in the process. His only losses came in the first tournament he played in Chile against Argentine Horacio Zeballos and against Djokovic, his personal boogeyman, in the Monte-Carlo final. It also goes without saying that he is going for an unprecedented eighth title at Roland Garros.
Djokovic, on the other hand, is the player of the moment. He possesses a sizable lead atop the world rankings and more importantly, is seeking his first French Open crown, which would complete a career grand slam for the Serb. Djokovic is also quite possibly the only man capable of beating Nadal in Paris; therefore the potential semifinal matchup between the two has captured all of the media’s attention.
This is all in Federer’s benefit. The last time he arrived in Paris lacking so much attention and scrutiny from the media was in 2011. That Roland Garros was also, aside from his 2009 victorious campaign, his most successful appearance in the red clay of Paris.
Back then, the media’s attention was focused once again on Nadal, who was looking to tie Swede Bjorn Borg for most French Open titles in the open era, and on Djokovic. The Serb had started the year on an undefeated run and was looking to match and surpass John McEnroe’s record 42-0 start, which he had in 1984. This should be added to the fact that Djokovic had also defeated Nadal in four straight finals going into the French Open, including two straight-set victories on the red clay and was looking like the favorite to win it all.
In that 2011 French Open, Federer cruised through to the semifinals, without dropping a single set. In that semifinal, he took on Djokovic in what is arguably one of the most memorable matches of his career. Djokovic came in as a heavy favorite, having knocked Federer off earlier on in the year at the Australian Open in straight sets and then having done the same at Indian Wells.
The Swiss, however, fought and played hard and proceeded to defeat Djokovic in four sets, thus setting up a meeting in the finals against Nadal, and ruining Djokovic’s quest for his first title in Paris and the record-breaking start to the season. While Federer did end up losing that final to Nadal as in previous years, that final was the closest he has ever played him in Paris.
In this 2013 French Open, Federer has cruised through the first three rounds. While it is true that he possesses for once an easier draw than his fellow top players in Nadal and Djokovic, the Swiss has taken full advantage of it. He began his campaign by quickly dispatching two qualifiers in the first two rounds. In today’s third round match, Federer took on Frenchman Julien Benneteau. Benneteau has given Federer a lot of trouble in their most recent encounters.
The Frenchman ended up being his toughest challenge both physically and mentally at last year’s Wimbledon, forcing the Swiss to come back from a two-set deficit, and he also defeated him earlier this year in Rotterdam. Today, though, it was all about the Swiss, who put on a dominant display, winning by a score of 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
Having fallen on the opposite side of the draw of both Nadal and Djokovic, Federer is the principal candidate to make the final from his half. His toughest challenges along the way will most likely be Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the quarterfinals and Spaniard David Ferrer in the semifinals.
While Federer’s chances of hoisting the trophy in Paris for a second occasion are slim, especially if Nadal advances to the final, a strong performance could help build his confidence towards a strong title defense at next month’s Wimbledon Championships. At the same time, there is always the possibility that Djokovic could defeat Nadal in their hypothetic semifinal. If that were to happen, it would most likely be after a long and grueling five-set match. If Federer is rested enough, he could potentially pounce on that opportunity and defeat the Serb, as he has previously done so.