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''Stronger'' Federer looks to begin deep run
Seventeen-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer (No. 4) will be hoping to ease into his Parisian campaign when he squares off against Lukas Lacko.
The Swiss father of four won their lone previous meeting in straight sets at the 2011 Australian Open, the Slovak mustering a meagre five games.
Federer has enjoyed a much improved beginning to 2014 than the previous year, which by all measures was one of the poorest of his career with his lone title coming on grass in Halle. Before being upset in the first round of the Rome Masters 1000 event by France’s Jeremy Chardy, Federer had reached the quarterfinals or better in all tournaments entered in 2014. Incidentally, although he lost that match 7-6 in the third, Federer has the best tiebreak record in the history of tennis. So far this year, the Basle native has reached the final in Brisbane, Dubai (where he won), Indian Wells and Monte Carlo ¬- encouraging results for the recent father of a second set of twins. He insists that his “routine is pretty much the same”, adding, “I have become again a touch stronger in the last few weeks and months really. It is important after the year I had last year that I do take those opportunities when I have them to work very hard.”
For Federer, his opponent is not an unknown quantity. The two have practised together on several occasions and the Swiss recalled their previous encounter down under. Lacko, the world No. 88, has compiled a 6-8 record in 2014 and lost to Gilles Muller of Luxemburg no fewer than three times in a span of only four weeks during the Asian swing, so he can take solace at least in having to face a different opponent! His best results this year came in the Masters 1000 event in Miami where he qualified for the main draw and won two more matches before being turned aside by Italy’s resurgent Fabio Fognini.
Federer is competing in his 16th straight French Open, an event he has won only once, in 2009 where he downed Robin Soderling of Sweden in the final. Despite the first-round exit in Rome, he sounded confident about his preparation for Roland Garros: “For me, I feel like I'm in good shape. I know where my game is at.” He made a deep run in Monte Carlo, where he took down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Novak Djokovic before running out of gas against compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka 4-6, 7-6 (5), 2-6 in the final. The win against Tsonga avenged his quarter-final loss to the Frenchman in straight sets here at Roland Garros last year.
One thing that Federer and Lacko have in common is that they both have “bagelled” Rafael Nadal, two of only 12 times that the Spaniard has lost a set 6-0!
A stronger Fed this year may be an insurmountable challenge for Lacko. If the journeyman is to have much of a chance on Sunday, he may have to hope the most famous dad in tennis has a sleepless night or two...