There are times, particularly when attention is diverted by the far more serious matter of lunch, when the main show court here at the French Open can be as deserted as a Metro station during one of the strikes that periodically paralyse Paris. By mid-afternoon yesterday, however, there was barely an empty seat on Philippe Chatrier Court as word of Roger Federer's second-round travails against Jose Acasuso spread.
At one set-all and 5-1 down in the third set, Federer was in danger of making his earliest exit from a Grand Slam tournament since losing to Luis Horna in the first round here six years ago. Acasuso, who had lost the first set after scorning four set points, had a point for the third at 5-2, but to relief all round Federer took 12 of the last 15 games to win 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-2 and keep alive his hopes of winning the only Grand Slam title that has eluded him.
"I had a standing ovation at the end, and that's very moving each time," Federer said afterwards. "I have a feeling I'm the grand favourite here in Paris, and that's very nice."
He added: "I'm not trying to seduce the crowd. I just try and play beautiful tennis. If they like it, great. If they don't like it, nothing I can do. I also think being a fair player is very important to me, and this is something people seem to like."
Acasuso, who had arrived here having won only once in the last three months, looked like a man who had been given the winning numbers for the lottery and then forgotten them. "I'm angry," the 26-year-old Argentine, ranked No 45 in the world, said. "Even though it was Federer, it was a near miss. I was so close to winning."
Federer said he was thrilled to win what he called "a fun match". For periods it looked anything but enjoyable for the former world No 1, who made a succession of errors. The Swiss, however, is a master at turning matches around. At this year's Australian Open he recovered from two sets down to beat Tomas Berdych and in Melbourne last year he won after trailing by two sets to one against Janko Tipsarevic, who meets Andy Murray in today's third round.
Serena Williams, having laboured against Klara Zakopalova in the previous round, dropped only two games against Virginia Ruano Pascual, but her sister Venus had to fight all the way against Lucie Safarova, who was a set up when the match was held over for bad light on Wednesday evening. The Czech had a match point when Williams served at 4-5 in yesterday's decider, but the American held on to win 6-7, 6-2, 7-5 after two hours and 30 minutes.