So far, so good in Roger Federer's quest for his second French Open championship.
The fourth-seeded Swiss had little trouble advancing past first-round opponent Lukas Lacko on Sunday, earning a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 straight-set victory in 84 minutes.
Federer has now reached at least the second round in 44 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. He has reached at least the quarterfinals at the French every year since 2004, though only one of those deep runs has resulted in triumph at Roland Garros.
Gastao Elias and Diego Sebastian Schwartzman face off later Sunday for the opportunity to oppose Federer in Round 2. Neither Elias nor Schwartzman, both relatively young players who advanced past French Open qualifying for the first time in their respective careers, has faced Federer before.
If his opening-round performance is any indication, the winner of that match will have his hands full.
Federer played a typically steady match, dominating with his first serve and breaking Lacko just enough to get the job done. With 89 percent of first-serve wins, seven aces and a serve that touched 200 kmh at one point, Federer was at certain points overpowering.
He barely broke a sweat in a dominant first set, striking 17 winners and getting through games in rapid succession. Between break points, quick serves and ripping forehands, Lacko barely had time to calm his nerves before being down a set. Federer finished him off 6-2 in only 24 minutes.
Lacko, 26, calmed down and battled back in the second. Though he shot himself in the foot with a frustrating double fault, Lacko refused to press himself and actually put Federer in a few difficult spots—particularly on the second serve. Typically a place where unheralded players get taken advantage of, Lacko won 71 percent of his second serves in the set and managed to be broken just once.
But that was more than enough for Federer, who never even came particularly close to ceding serve. Another three aces helped Federer recover from nine unforced errors to take it 6-4, as it became apparent the only way Lacko could come back was via miracle or injury.
Federer came out with a clear sense of the moment in the third, like a rabid dog sensing his prey was near the end. He came crashing to the net for easy winners, continued his dominant serve and took advantage of every mistake from his opponent. Lacko, pressing a bit with his tournament life on the line, double-faulted four times as he allowed Federer two breaks en route to a 6-2 capper.
Lacko has now lost in Round 1 in five straight Grand Slam tournaments. His only other prior match with Federer came at the 2011 Australian Open, where the Swiss also had little trouble in a straight-set win.
At that time, many were beginning to consider Federer on the downslope of his career. Now, he's among the favorites at the French Open after a renaissance-like start to 2014. Federer only has one calendar title this season but has played with a newfound confidence after a lost 2013 campaign. With a new coach and a bigger racket as part of his routine, Federer came into Roland Garros as comfortable as he has been in a long time.
"That racquet gives me more power and makes it easier," Federer told reporters prior to the match. "I have more margin because it's a bigger racquet, and also on my backhand when I topspin it's better, and when I slice or I put a lot of effect on the ball, sometimes the ball flies a little bit."
The true challenge for Federer will come later in the event. Few expect him to have any trouble with Elias or Schwartzman, and Federer has been a borderline lock for the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam for a decade.
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times noted Federer's almost unparalleled longevity:
58 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments for Roger Federer and no end yet in sight. Remarkable— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 25, 2014
His semifinals run at the Australian Open re-entered him into the conversation as a tertiary contender to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Though the French Open has largely been his worst major event as a pro, the bigger racket might just be the thing to put him over the edge. He likely won't be tested until at least the quarterfinals, and avoiding Nadal's side of the bracket was a win in and of itself.
Few concrete takeaways can come from someone of Federer's stature beating someone like Lacko. It's just the clearest sign yet that, even at age 32, no one can quite write off Roger Federer just yet.
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