Racquet Reaction

Roland Garros: Federer d. Lacko

Sunday, May 25, 2014 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

Flags hung limply atop Court Philippe Chatrier, while Lukas Lacko slid around the salmon-colored court below, looking like a man trying to sustain balance in the face of sudden squalls.

Roger Federer turned opening day at Roland Garros into a day at the races, breezing by his overmatched opponent, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, in just 84 minutes.

Playing fast and looking fit, Federer set the tone with a sharp serve. He served 72 percent, hit seven aces, did not face a break point, and permitted just nine points on serve. Fifteen years to the day after a 17-year-old Federer fell to world No. 3 Patrick Rafter in his Roland Garros debut, the Swiss asserted his all-court game, showing some serve-and-volley flashes and winning 16 of 20 trips to net.

The 26-year-old Lacko was an ideal opening opponent for Federer, who may well have gotten a more rigorous work-out facing Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov in Roland Garros practice sessions last week. Contesting his first clay-court event since falling to Sam Querrey at the 2013 French Open, Lacko took the court with an 0-15 lifetime record against Top 10 opponents, a 10-match clay-court losing streak, and a shortage of optimism to match those sparse results. The 88th-ranked Slovak is mired in a three-year dirt drought; his last clay-court win came against Florent Serra at the 2011 Prague Challenger.

Lacko stayed with Federer for four games before the 2009 champion broke through. Federer lashed an inside-out forehand winner for his first break point. When Lacko ended a 17-shot rally netting a short slice, Federer had the break and a 3-2 advantage.

Federer used his variety to displace the Slovak in the seventh game, starting with a smooth forehand drop-shot winner, a backhand volley winner, and a cross-court forehand before breaking again for 5-2. Closing the 24-minute first set with conviction, Federer dwarfed Lacko in winners—17 to three—including winning six of seven trips to net.

The combination of Federer's piercing serve and increasing pressure on return left Lacko with diminished options and dwindling self-belief. Lacko lacked the consistency to grind and the control to test the lines as his flat shots often strayed when he was pushed wide. The fourth seed extended his lead to two sets to love after only 58 minutes of play.

The end was imminent when Lacko dumped his third double fault of the game to donate the break in the opening game of the third set. Federer broke again for 4-1. Lacko's lone bright spot came when he saved a match point to hold for 2-5, but it was a brief reprieve. Federer crunched an inside-out forehand winner to close an impressive start to his 58th straight Grand Slam event.

Given the gloomy forecast for the coming days in Paris, Federer sounded pleased with his execution and efficiency in the opener.

"I was trying to force myself to play aggressive in the second and third sets," Federer told ESPN's Pam Shriver afterward. "I forced myself to hit it harder and keep coming to net. I tried to serve and volley a bit and see how that works as well. Honestly, I'm all about making sure I win my matches and not lose them because you can't win the tournament in the first week; it's all about moving on."

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