PARIS (Reuters) - A quintet of Frenchmen led a home procession at Roland Garros on Wednesday but Roger Federer still threatens to rain on their parade after sauntering into the third round of the French Open.
On so-called Children’s Day at the claycourt slam it was kid’s stuff for second seed Federer as he thrashed Indian qualifier Somdev Devvarman 6-2 6-1 6-1.
While the Swiss is hugely popular with the Parisian fans, it was the progress of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Julien Benneteau and Jeremy Chardy that drew the loudest cheers.
Tsonga, the sixth seed and regarded as France’s best hope for a first male grand slam singles champion since 1983, beat steady Finn Jarkko Nieminen 7-6 (6) 6-4 6-3 after saving a set point in the opening set to book a clash with Chardy.
Former semi-finalist Monfils, who was given a wildcard as he continues to climb back up the rankings after a knee injury, was next up on Philippe Chatrier Court and followed on from his first-round epic against fifth seed Tomas Berdych with a four-set win over Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis.
The flamboyant Monfils was so taken by the atmosphere that at one changeover he grabbed his camera phone and began filming the crowd as they performed a Mexican wave.
Simon, seeded 15, struggled to impose himself against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay but hit form to win 6-7 (2) 6-1 6-1 6-1 while Benneteau survived a five-setter against German Tobias Kamke.
Benneteau will now face Federer whom he led by two sets in the third round of Wimbledon last year before the Swiss maestro recovered to win and went on to claim his 17th grand slam title.
Federer, who has helpfully landed in the opposite half of the draw to defending champion Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, was in merciless mood against Devvarman but was not getting ahead of himself as he chases a second French Open title.
“I think I’m playing okay,” Federer, who has beaten two qualifiers so far without breaking sweat, told reporters.
“But definitely I think the next match is going to be sort of the big test for me to see exactly where I stand.
“I think I’ll know more after the Benneteau match.”
It was not all French glory on day four.
Women’s top seed Serena Williams stamped out any hope of a rare French hat-trick of wins on Chatrier Court with a 6-1 6-2 victory against 19-year-old wildcard Caroline Garcia.
The American, like Federer looking for only her second French Open title despite multiple wins at the other slams, served six aces and looked razor-sharp as she extended her career-best winning streak to 26 matches.
“I just really wanted to be serious and to get this win under my belt,” the 31-year-old said.
“I came out strong because I knew I had to.”
Another chilly day beside the Bois de Boulogne began with a cacophony of noise on Chatrier as women’s third seed Victoria Azarenka made her tournament bow after her first-round match against Russian Elena Vesnina was rained-off on Tuesday.
Azarenka, dressed in long sleeves and leggings, found her claycourt rhythm to earn a 6-1 6-4 victory in a stadium that was no more than a third full.
The low decibel level from the fans was more than offset by the grunts, howls and groans from the two players whose sound effects echoed around the arena.
Azarenka just about won the noise battle, although Vesnina ran her close, and the Belarussian afterwards said she had spent Tuesday watching television singing contest “The Voice”.
“There’s this girl. Her name is Judith. She was a duet singer with Michael Jackson. She’s absolutely incredible. I mean, I have no idea how sound like that can come out of somebody’s mouth,” the 23-year-old told reporters.
Azarenka and Williams led a stampede of seeded women into the third round, although 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki, the former world number one, went out to Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski.
Last year’s beaten finalist Sara Errani, seeded five, beat Yulia Putintseva 6-1 6-1, fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska saw off American Mallory Burdette 6-3 6-2 and former champion Ana Ivanovic, seeded 14, beat Frenchwoman Mathilde Johansson.
Radwanska was spared a third-round clash with her sister Urszula who lost to Dinah Pfizenmaier.
Seventh seed Petra Kvitova also ended the hopes of a home player, struggling past wildcard Aravane Rezai in three sets.
The 28-year-old Tsonga, the last Frenchman to reach a major final in Australia in 2008, said he was happy to be carrying the flag for the sizeable home contingent which had 14 singles players in action on Wednesday.
“It’s positive pressure because I have everything to win and I would say nothing to lose,” Tsonga told reporters. “If I go far in this tournament or if I win, it’s going to be huge.”
Asked to summarize his performance, he said: “I played some ‘pie in the sky’ shots that I am not necessarily accustomed to doing, but I did. I could have produced a better copy book.”
Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic had too much power for yet another Frenchman, Michael Llodra, winning 7-5 3-6 7-6 (3) 6-2 to reach round three where he will face another giant with a cannonball delivery, South Africa’s Kevin Anderson.
Fourth seed David Ferrer took his place in the third round almost unnoticed, thrashing fellow Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-2 6-1 6-3 on an outside court while Croatia’s Marin Cilic ended the hopes of Australian upstart Nick Kyrgios, leaving France’s Lucas Pouille as the only teenager left in the men’s draw.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Sonia Oxley