Fed triumphs in 400th Slam match

Roger Federer celebrated another tennis landmark by winning his generation game with Casper Ruud.

Roger Federer third round roland garros 2019©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Ian Chadband

During his warm-up with Casper Ruud on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Roger Federer suddenly tired of one forehand baseline knock-up and, to signal the end of his interest, threw in a preposterously perfect backhand drop shot that spun dozily before flopping just over the net.

Goodness, the 20-year-old Norwegian must have thought. Dad didn’t tell him it was going to be like this…

Being the young fellow drawn to be the great Federer’s opponent in the Swiss' 400th Grand Slam singles match - no player, man or woman, has previously ever reached this landmark - must have been a privilege, a thrill but, most of all, a rare old education for Ruud.

Yet after being filleted so comprehensively for two sets that he might have been pining for the fjords, the youngster gave the misfiring old master some serious trouble in the third before finally going down 6-3, 6-1, 7-6(8).

Up in the players’ box, his father and coach, Norway’s former top professional Christian Ruud, can only have been left proud as punch at this show of character from his boy.

Twenty years earlier, Christian was reminded by his old fitness coach this week, he himself had practised with a young Federer, then a 17-year-old Grand Slam debutant, at these very championships.

He can’t have had any idea that the lad with a bit of talent across the net was going to become a sporting deity; more than that, it must have felt perfectly crazy to him here that Federer, at 37 years 305 days the oldest man ever to play in the third round at Roland-Garros, was still around to be playing his son. And beating him.

Yet Federer does keep cheating time, doesn’t he? 400 Grand Slam matches? It was impressive, he said, but he’d had no idea that he was reaching another astounding milestone.

“It's even more pleasant to do this in Roland-Garros, because I have a lot of records, milestones from Wimbledon or the US Open, but doing anything in Roland is very special, because I played a lot here….400 is still a lot, eh?"

It sure is. For the first two sets, he marked the occasion by offering us a fine vintage, first working out how to draw Ruud in with his short, sliced returns before uncorking a lovely cushioned backhand half-volley pass down-the-line for the key break.

By the second, he was playing on such a sublime plane that when one exciting rally ended with him hitting a backhand overhead winner off his racquet frame, this mixture of brilliance and good fortune could only make you feel sorry for Ruud. 

Bryan Habana, the Springbok World Cup-winning rugby star, had a ringside seat for all these marvels and couldn’t stop laughing with incredulity at what he was seeing. 

Ruud didn’t feel sorry for himself, though. When Federer’s level dropped in the third, he rose along with his soaring confidence and the No.3 seed must have been just a little relieved when he survived a set point in a tight, nervy tie-breaker and went on to deliver the conclusive smash at the end of a 17-shot rally, the longest of the whole entertaining 2hr 11min match.

Entertaining but “tough”, reckoned Federer, who seemed in buoyant, if nostalgic mood.

“I feel that my 20 years on the tour went too fast almost,” he reflected. “When you play against people like Casper Ruud, you ask, ‘how was it at the time?’ When I started on the tour he was hardly born.”

Actually, he was born five months after Federer started.

“I'm happy I'm putting myself in a position like this in a fourth round of the French Open after not having played so many years here,” added Federer. 

“My 1000th victory on tour touched me a lot, moved me. But, no, not 400 victories here but 400 matches, okay,” he smiled. For the ageless Federer, there’s doubtless still time for the 400 wins too!