With former coach Stefan Edberg and Laver Cup captain Bjorn Borg watching from his box, Roger Federer enjoyed majestic company for his 400th career major match on Friday. And the 2009 French Open champion delivered the goods for his famous onlookers, defeating Casper Ruud, 6-3, 6-1, 7-6 (8), in the third round on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
"It's true I played many matches in Grand Slam tournaments, and 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," Federer said. "But doing anything in [Paris] is very special, because I played a lot here. It was my first Grand Slam where I was in the main draw."
The 20-time major winner, now 345-55 in Grand Slam play, is through to the second week at Roland Garros without dropping a set. Federer is competing at the Paris major for the first time in four years, when he bowed out to countryman Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. Wawrinka went on to capture the 2015 title over Novak Djokovic.
Federer is yet to face a Top 50 opponent so far, a streak that will continue in the fourth round. The 37-year-old will meet No. 68 Leonardo Mayer, a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (3) winner over wild card Nicolas Mahut. Federer is the oldest man to reach the round of 16 at a major since 39-year-old Jimmy Connors reached the 1991 US Open semifinals.
Ruud was appearing in the third round at a Grand Slam for the first time. This finish put him in company with his father Casper, who advanced to the same stage in 1995 and 1999. The two relocated to Mallorca last fall to set up a training base for Casper at the Rafa Nadal Academy. Nadal’s uncle Toni was in attendance to see Ruud battle Federer.
"I like a lot in his game," praised Federer. "Today I saw the clay courter. But I'm sure he's also got the hard court game in him. I think he's going to be Top 50, Top 20, hopefully soon. From then on, anything is possible at some stage once you get in the Top 20."
Federer’s wrist control was on full display from all court positions: backhand return flicks, forehand slides on the run, deceptive chips drawing Ruud in, serve and volley finishes, and pinpointing aces under pressure enabled the Swiss to comfortably grasp a two-set lead. His lone hiccup came early in the third set, when he whiffed on a backhand before netting a forehand to drop serve.
The third seed recovered in the next game to restore order. Ruud stepped up his level, finding improved success with his first serve and assertive forehand to make a stand. The 20-year-old erased two match points down 4-6 in the tiebreaker, winning three straight points to give himself a chance to extend the encounter. A double fault from Ruud handed Federer his fourth match point, and he took it to clinch his fourth-round berth in two hours and 11 minutes.
"I enjoyed the match. I thought it was tough, even though I had a good run there for a while," said Federer. "And that also is very important for me to know, as well, that I can run through a set and a half and just take care of business. It gives me confidence for the next match."