By Randy Walker
Fifteen years to the day when he played his first career main draw match at a major tournament, Roger Federer won his 266th career match at a Grand Slam tournament with an easy 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Lukas Lacko of Slovakia Sunday in the first round of the 2014 French Open.
Back on May 25, 1999, as documented in my upcoming volume “The Days of Roger Federer” (available for pre-order here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1937559378/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_uGFGtb122AXVS3FZ via @amazon) a 17-year-old Roger Federer put up a valiant fight against two-time reigning US Open champion Patrick Rafter, as excerpted here:
1999 – Ranked No. 111 in the world, 17-year-old Roger Federer plays in his first main draw match at a major tournament at the French Open, losing to two-time reigning U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter of Australia 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. Writes Rene Stauffer in the book Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection, “He (Roger) jumped out to win the first set against the world’s No. 3-ranked player who then was at the peak of his career. However, the sun came out and the conditions became warmer and faster. The clay courts dried out and balls moved much faster through the court. The Australian’s attacking serve-and-volley style seemed to run on automatic and he won in four sets. ‘The young man from Switzerland could be one of the people who will shape the next ten years,’ the French sports newspaper L’Equipe wrote during the tournament. Rafter shared the same opinion. “The boy impressed me very much,” he said. “If he works hard and has a good attitude, he could become an excellent player.’”
Federer was playing only his second match since he became a father of four – his twin boys being born on May 6. Against Lacko, Federer hit 72 percent of his first serves and only lost nine points on serve, not facing break point. He won 16 of 20 points when he approached the net. Federer’s first match since becoming the father of his second set of twins was a 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) loss to Jeremy Chardy on May 14 in his opening round match in Rome.
For the ninth year, Roland Garros began on a Sunday and, for the third time, Federer was on the opening day schedule. In 2006, the first year of the Sunday start, Federer expressed his anger at being scheduled on the first Sunday after beating Diego Hartfield 7-5, 7-6 (2), 6-2, “I only knew one day ahead who I was going to play, and I never heard of his name or never seen him before. I’m happy I didn’t lose, because otherwise I’d be very angry right now…. I requested not to play Sunday, so I wasn’t happy to play today. But I’m through.” Federer then joked, “I can go home to Switzerland, come back in four days and be ready for Wednesday.”
In 2013, Federer defeated Pablo Carreno-Busta 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 on the opening Sunday and said in his post-match press conference, “I told them (the French Tennis Federatino) if they wanted me to play Sunday, whatever, I’m fine with it. They took that opportunity right away.”