Roger Federer appears to break records as easily as some politicians break promises. The 30-year-old Swiss needs only one more victory to beat Jimmy Connors' record of 233 wins in Grand Slam tournaments after beginning his 14th consecutive French Open here yesterday with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Germany's Tobias Kamke.
It was by no means Federer's most impressive performance – the world No 3 dropped his serve three times and made 47 unforced errors – but he said first-round matches were never easy.
"The last thing you want is to go down a set or get into a tough situation, but I was able to stay ahead in the first set,"he said. "I had ups and downs on my serve, but overall I'm happy I'm through. Sometimes you have to come through when you're not playing your very best. I missed a few too many shots, but I was always in the lead and could afford to do those."
Federer said that equalling Connors' record was one of his most important achievements because it demonstrated his longevity. "Jimmy is obviously one of the greats of all time and was around for 20 years," Federer said. Never one for false modesty, he added: "I have been so successful for such a long time and to already tie that record, at 30 years old, is pretty incredible, so I'm very happy."
Told that he had just won his 48th match in a row against German opponents, Federer said: "I have good records against many players, thank God. I was on a winning streak against Americans for a while, too. But this is stuff I didn't even know about to be quite honest."
Federer said the one remaining landmark that he would like to pass above all others is Connors' career record of 109 titles. Federer is currently on 74. "Is it possible for me to equal Connors' number of titles?" he said, "Well, 110 would be a round figure. That would be incredible. But that's a dream. I go year after year, and we'll see."
When asked if he had ever talked to Connors about the lengths of their respective careers, Federer said: "No. He didn't talk to me much when he was working with [Andy] Roddick. He was quite distant at that time, which is a bit weird, because I got on very well with Roddick. But I think he respects me very much. I had many interviews with him for the Tennis Channel and we saw each other in the locker room. I talked to him, but he is much closer to [Rafael] Nadal than to me. Maybe that's the reason."
Federer has won a record 16 Grand Slam titles – the last of them was nearly two and a half years ago – and has reached the quarter-finals or better at the last 31 events. This French Open is his 50th consecutive appearance at a Grand Slam tournament, a record bettered in the Open era only by Wayne Ferreira (56 tournaments) and Stefan Edberg (54). Since making his debut here as a wild card in 1999, Federer has played in every Grand Slam competition except the 1999 US Open, for which he failed to qualify.
The Swiss is attempting to become the first player over the age of 30 to win a Grand Slam title since Andre Agassi won the Australian Open nine years ago at 32. However, proof that modern men's tennis is increasingly becoming a sport for older players is demonstrated by the fact that there are 37 players aged 30 or over in the 128-strong field here, which is an Open era record.
Nevertheless, while Federer sails on, an ever-growing number of his contemporaries are hitting the rocks. Lleyton Hewitt, who won seven of his first nine meetings with Federer, was beaten 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 yesterday by Slovenia's Blaz Kavcic. The 31-year-old Australian, who is No 176 in the world rankings and needed a wild card to play here, has been troubled by a succession of injuries and described his most recent operation, on his left foot, as "a last-effort surgery". Roddick went out on the first day of competition while David Nalbandian went down 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 to Romania's Adrian Ungur, who will be Federer's next opponent.
Arnaud Clément, aged 34, struck a blow for the older generation when he beat Alex Bogomolov jr after four hours and 16 minutes. The Frenchman, whose defeat over six and a half hours to Fabrice Santoro here in 2004 was the longest match in Grand Slam history until John Isner and Nicolas Mahut obliterated the record at Wimbledon two years ago, was leading Bogomolov 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 5-4 when the Russian retired on match point with cramp. Clément played his first Grand Slam tournament here in 1997.
Novak Djokovic, who is attempting to become the first man in 43 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles, got his campaign off to a good start, beating Italy's Potito Starace 7-6, 6-3, 6-1. "I tried to be aggressive on the court and take my chances," he said. "Maybe it was good for me to have a tough first set and try to find good control and rhythm and movement on the court."