May 29, 2019
Roger Federer eased past Oscar Otte of Germany without too much trouble.
In fact his backhand volley to close out the match was ridiculously nonchalant, even for a man of his talent.
But what did the great man’s performance really tell us about his title chances?
It’s difficult to say, because Otte crumbled under pressure at the business end of all three sets.
All Federer had to do was play his usual game to a decent standard and wait for his opponent to make mistakes.
However, there were clues to the levels Roger is able to reach at this stage of his campaign and how it might go for him in the latter stages of the tournament.
Will he really be able to beat the great Rafael Nadal on clay if their paths cross? The Spaniard looked in cruise control during his own 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Yannick Maden.
Federer took his match 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. He was smart and exerted pressure at just the right time.
His movement up to the net and back was impressive. At one point early in the third set, Federer was lobbed and faced a near-impossible scramble back to the baseline to stay in the fight.
Even a much younger man would have struggled to keep the rally alive.
Somehow, with a blend of agility, speed and incredible technique, Federer was able to flick a return, anticipate the direction of the smash, and force an error from the underdog.
But some moments were less than perfect. Roger faced two break-back points at 5-3 in the second. More break points to go 1-3 down in the third. True, he dealt with these moments well.
But would a better and more confident player have let him off the hook?
Sometimes Federer’s unforced errors looked just that – unnecessary, loose.
More encouragingly still for the likes of Nadal and Djokovic, Federer’s stretching and sliding to the lateral extremes was sometimes ineffective.
His forehand often only found the net when he was forced to reach to the very limit of his range.
Roger kicked the clay off his shoes or knocked it clear with his racquet, but this wasn’t quite the master in his natural environment.
Does Roger have what it takes to go deep into the tournament at Roland Garros?
Sure, let’s not be too critical, he is still poetry in motion much of the time. On the grass of Wimbledon he will be even better.
But does Roger Federer look likely to become champion of Roland Garros this year? No. Not yet, anyway.
Of course, Slams are strange beasts and anything can happen. Players often grow into a tournament and find a much greater intensity come the semi-final or final.
Let’s not count out the majestic Federer, with all that knowledge of how to get the job done.
However, don’t expect Rafa or Novak to be quaking in their boots based on what they have seen from Roger on clay so far.
By Mark Ryan