PARIS (Reuters) - Roger Federer avoided any more security scares to move safely into the third round of the French Open on Wednesday but danger lurks ahead for the Swiss, namely in the shape of Japanese firebrand Kei Nishikori.
The perils of Roland Garros were in evidence in the women’s draw too as last year’s runner-up Simona Halep, the third seed, bowed out 7-5 6-1 to Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to become the biggest casualty so far.
The 33-year-old Lucic-Baroni, who made her French Open debut in 1999 as a 17-year-old but took a break from tennis before returning, also beat Halep in last year’s U.S. Open.
“I didn’t feel my game. I don’t have a good feeling, that’s why I couldn’t change anything,” Romanian Halep said.
Maria Sharapova, who beat Halep in last year’s final, made short work of fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, winning 6-3 6-1 to set up a juicy third-round clash with Samantha Stosur.
Stosur, the 2010 runner-up, came within a game of serving up a “double bagel” over French wildcard Amandine Hesse but had to be content with 6-0 6-1.
While second seed Federer was beating Spain’s Marcel Granollers 6-2 7-6(1) 6-3, Nishikori took center stage on Court Phillipe Chatrier and a straight sets win over Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci offered further proof of his growing threat.
Left-hander Bellucci is one of the form players on clay this year, but 25-year-old Nishikori passed the test with flying colors, winning 7-5 6-4 6-4 to reach the third round for only the second time.
“I have a lot of confidence on clay right now, so I hope I can do well here, because I haven’t done so well before,” Nishikori who last year became the first Asian male to reach a grand slam final at the U.S. Open, told reporters.
“I’m feeling really well after these two matches and winning in three sets against a tough player like Thomaz.”
Bellucci, ranked 40, arrived in Paris full of confidence after winning the Geneva title last week, but the relentless Nishikori wore him down in a high-quality contest.
Nishikori, who has 1989 champion Michael Chang in his corner, needed to be at full-throttle throughout though.
He saved a break point at 2-3 in the opening set and then struck decisively at 5-5, nailing a forehand winner at the end of a blistering 22-stroke baseline rally for a decisive break.
Nishikori was broken twice, at 5-2 in the second and third sets, but neither proved too damaging as he moved through to a third round clash with Germany’s Benjamin Becker who beat Spanish 32nd seed Fernando Verdasco in a five-set cliffhanger.
There was no repeat of Sunday’s scenes when a fan ran on to court for a selfie with 17-times grand slam champion Federer, the only trouble the Swiss encountering on Wednesday was a 4-2 second-set deficit which he quickly fixed.
Federer, on collision course with Nishikori in the semi-final, will play Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur in round three after he beat Marcos Baghdatis 6-4 6-3 4-6 6-2.
“I might even go so far to say I have actually almost never seen him play before,” Federer said of Sarajevo-based Dzumhur.
Fourth seed Tomas Berdych, who could play Nishikori in the quarter-finals, ended 36-year-old fellow Czech Radek Stepanek’s hopes with a four-set victory.
Eighth seed Stanislas Wawrinka also made progress, beating Serbian Dusan Lajovic and it was a fantastic day for the French with five men reaching the third round and Alize Cornet progressing in the women’s draw.
Twelfth seed Gilles Simon led the home charge, beating Martin Klizan 7-5 6-2 6-3 while Cornet beat Romania’s Alexandra Dulgheru (Romania) 6-2 7-5.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga crushed Israel’s Dudi Sela, Nicolas Mahut beat last year’s surprise semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis and Benoit Paire also took out a seed, Italy’s Fabio Fognini.
Gael Monfils completed the sweep, overcoming Diego Schwartzman to loud cheers on Court Phillipe Chatrier.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ian Chadband