PARIS (Reuters) – Roger Federer lost his trademark cool but found some vintage tennis as he beat Marin Cilic 6-2 2-6 7-6(4) 6-2 to move into the third round of the French Open on Thursday.
The 39-year-old Swiss brushed Cilic aside with majestic ease in the first set but lost the second after a heated debate with the chair umpire over the time he was taking to towel down before Cilic served knocked him out of his stride.
Twice Federer has played big-serving Cilic in Grand Slam finals, winning both, and the duo’s 11th career meeting produced some high-octane tennis in a pivotal third set.
Cilic looked dangerous when he battled back from a break down but Federer raised his game in the tiebreak to move ahead.
A Cilic double fault gifted eighth-seed Federer a break for 3-1 in the fourth set and he finished it in ruthless fashion.
Twenty-time Grand Slam champion Federer, who had played only three matches in 17 months coming into Roland Garros, closed out the contest in clinical fashion to set up a third-round against Germany’s 59th-ranked Dominik Koepfer.
Even for a player of Federer’s sublime talents, the level he has reached in his opening two rounds has surprised a few, given the lack of tennis he has played since the 2020 Australian Open.
More unexpected was the sight of Federer being given a slow play warning by umpire Emmanuel Joseph in the fifth game of the second set when Cilic was serving with a break at 3-1.
The Croatian was ready to serve down one of his bombs but Federer was not in position, having walked to the side of the court to wipe some sweat away with his towel.
Joseph warned Federer for a time violation, prompting an animated debate in French between the two.
At one point Federer, who rarely wastes time on court, asked Cilic, “Am I playing too slow?”.
Cilic managed to hold serve for a 4-1 lead, having saved three break points, with Federer spending the entire changeover in further discussions with Joseph.
“Marin was upset with me because he wanted to serve at me without me being in position,” Federer told Eurosport.
“With the towels being on either side I’m a bit confused how I’m supposed to do it. I know you are supposed to play at the server’s pace but was I have to question was it Marin pushing me a little bit to play extremely fast, or was I playing extremely slow? I’m sorry if I did but I wanted a proper explanation.”
That dip aside Federer was in scintillating form, moving effortlessly around the Parisian clay and striking 47 winners to the 43 of Cilic whose win-loss record against Federer is now 1-10.
After Cilic broke back for 3-3 in the third set with a screaming forehand return, neither player dropped set on serve for the next six games and the tiebreak always looked like being crucial.
Cilic double-faulted early in it to hand Federer the initiative and from there only one outcome looked likely.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)