Federer battles past Mahut
Frenchman proves awkward opponent for world number three
Last Updated: 01/06/12 9:16pm
Roger Federer: dropped a set during third-round win over Nicolas Mahut at French Open
Roger Federer continued to make heavy weather of a straightforward-looking draw at the French Open as he scraped past Nicolas Mahut 6-3 4-6 6-2 7-5 in the third round.
The world number three was not expected to be troubled until a scheduled quarter-final against either Tomas Berdych or Juan Martin Del Potro but, after losing a set to unheralded Romanian Adrian Ungur in round two, he again struggled.
Federer, who has reached 31 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals, breezed through the first set against Frenchman Mahut - most famous, of course, for his Wimbledon epic against John Isner two years ago.
The 30-year-old prefers faster surfaces but he was relishing the challenge of taking on a 16-time slam champion on his home stage and the second set was competitive from the start.
When Mahut brought up his first break point in the 10th game, it was also a set point, and he took it with a searing backhand return winner down the line.
Federer looked a little flat and lacked some of his usual attacking spark but he responded in typical fashion by breaking in the third game of the third set and taking it easily.
The Swiss seemed to be on his way when, after saving a break point in the sixth game, he broke through himself at the very next opportunity.
However, Mahut responded with some fine play to break straight back and sow the seeds of doubt once more. Not for long as it turned out, Federer taking his third chance to move 6-5 ahead and this time serving it out.
In the fourth round the third seed will play 21-year-old Belgian David Goffin, whose dream run continued with a 7-6 (7/4) 7-5 6-1 victory over Lukas Kubot.
Goffin, part of the Belgian Davis Cup team that beat Great Britain in April, lost in the final round of qualifying to Joao Sousa but was given a place in the main draw for the first time at a grand slam when Gael Monfils withdrew.
And he has certainly taken his chance, beating Radek Stepanek and veteran Arnaud Clement at the Frenchman's final Roland Garros prior to seeing off Kubot to earn a fairytale meeting with the player he idolises.
That will give the match a different feel for Federer, who said: "It's not the first time it's happened. It's strange. It's everything you can imagine. I'm happy to hear it, though.
"So it's a big match obviously for him, and for me, too. It is a fourth round of a grand slam, after all, here in Paris where I know the Belgians have come and supported their players like Justine (Henin) and Kim (Clijsters) in the past.
The fourth round will contain some heavyweight clashes, with Juan Martin Del Potro meeting Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga taking on Stanislas Wawrinka in a repeat of their third-round match last year, which the Swiss won after fighting back from two sets down.
Berdych and Wawrinka were both involved in five-setters, with the Swiss particularly impressive in coming back from two sets to one and a break down to oust 11th-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon 7-5 6-7 (5/7) 6-7 (3/7) 6-3 6-2.
Wawrinka said of his clash with Tsonga: "We had a tough match already last year. Jo is a great player, and when he plays at home he always plays even better and he's even more motivated.
"But I know I have the weapons to beat him. If I play a very good match, I'm able to beat him. Now the main thing for me is to see how I can recuperate and how I can be ready for Sunday."
Seventh seed Berdych also had to come from behind against 6ft 8in South African Kevin Anderson, the Czech eventually prevailing 6-3 4-6 6-7 (4/7) 6-4 6-4 for his first five-set win in five attempts at Roland Garros.
Tsonga and Del Potro had an easier time of it, the fifth-seeded Frenchman defeating flamboyant Italian Fabio Fognini 7-5 6-4 6-4 while Del Potro, seeded ninth, was a 6-3 7-6 (9/7) 6-1 winner over Marin Cilic.