Roger Federer showing signs of his ruthless best at Roland Garros

Swiss veteran sees off Dmitry Tursunov to set up clash with former critic Ernests Gulbis

Roger Federer reaches out to return a backhand to Dmitry Tursunov of Russia during their men’s singles match at the French Open  at  Roland Garros.  Photo: Stephane Mahe/Reuters .

Roger Federer reaches out to return a backhand to Dmitry Tursunov of Russia during their men’s singles match at the French Open at Roland Garros. Photo: Stephane Mahe/Reuters .

 

The ageless elegance of Roger Federer is one of the wonders of sport. He not only wins, he simultaneously delights and executes, as David Gower did once in cricket and Zinedine Zidane did on the football pitch.

But it is when he is under sustained pressure that his extraordinary calm is most obvious, as it was from time to time in a stuttering match against Dmitry Tursunov on day six at the French Open.

With the field opening up, this is the time the serious players make their move in the tournament, and, while the sport’s most charming assassin took a little while to find his gears, when he did he drove over the top of the Russian with all the compassion of a tank driver.

Well enough

He lost a tie-break – his eighth from 15 this year – but finished well enough to win 7-5, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 in just over three hours on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Federer’s next opponent is Ernests Gulbis who has not only beaten him, but who here last year accused the Swiss and other leading players of giving boring press conferences.

Gulbis, destined to be “the reformed playboy from Latvia” for the rest of his career, played some lovely tennis to beat the Czech Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, banging 19 aces and 45 clean winners past the bewildered world number 43 in a minute under two hours.

He lost just three of 47 points on his first serve.

The last time Gulbis went this deep in the tournament he was a rebellious teenager and lost to Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals six years ago. He says that the fire is still burning, but not so wildly. “For me, it doesn’t matter – clay, hard court, indoor, outdoor – it’s just when I get the vibe going, the winning streak, then I’m good.”

Gulbis says he has abandoned his lazy, freewheeling ways and now spends proper time in the gym and on court correcting his game.

“I made a lot of bad decisions, career-wise,” is how he puts it. “I don’t regret it at all, because I think in a way I’m in a better position, maybe not as a tennis player but as a person.

He is clearly fitter and more focused, well worth his world No 17 ranking, and coming off a good win in Nice, as well as consecutive victories over Jerzy Janowicz, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Marin Cilic in Madrid, before going out to David Ferrer in the quarter-finals.

He has also beaten each of Grigor Dimitrov and Roberto Bautista Agut twice, to retain bragging rights among the new contenders.

Different player

Gulbis has not played Federer since 2010, when he took a set off him in Doha and Madrid and beat him in Rome, probably his best win to that point. But he is a different player now, far more dangerous.

“I don’t want to show all my cards, but I have a gameplan,” Gulbis said. “I know how I’m going to play him. You don’t need to be scared to do certain things against him. Most players go on the court and they have lost the match before it has started . . .”

Should be interesting: Mr Cool against retired Mr Angry.

Meanwhile on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Novak Djokovic, also dropped a set, before putting the brilliant but unreliable Cilic away 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4. While the world No2 was not wholly convincing, he is building towards his best for the second week, like Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.

There were more surprises in the women’s results, with Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova losing to Sam Stosur, who played with five stitches in her leg after a training accident. Third seed Agnieszka Radwanska went down in straight sets to the world No72, Ajla Tomljanovic.

And 14th seed, Carla Suarez Navarro took less than an hour to win for the loss of just four games against Taylor Townsend.

Guardian service

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