World number one Roger Federer has begun his quest to win the French Open for the first time with a comfortable victory on the opening day at Roland Garros.
The Swiss conceded only five games during Monday’s straight-sets demolition of Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela, 6-1, 6-4, 6-0.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for the 23-year-old who found himself trailing 3-1 in the second set.
"It wasn’t a good match," conceded Federer. "I had a bit of trouble at the start, but fortunately I was able to fire off a few shots in the final set."
In the second round he will play Spain’s Nicolas Almagro (ATP 76).
The French Open is the one grand-slam title missing from the Swiss star’s impressive trophy cabinet and he says he is determined to make amends over the next two weeks in Paris.
"The last two years have been too disappointing for me at the French, so I just have to focus on the early rounds," said Federer after winning on clay in Hamburg last weekend.
"Once I get going, that’s when I will start to become really dangerous at Roland Garros."
Victory in Hamburg for the second year in succession was his fifth career win on clay. Wins over last year’s French Open finalist Guillermo Coria and rising French star Richard Gasquet en route to the title proved once again that Federer has the all-court game to succeed in Paris.
Last year the Swiss arrived in the French capital in similar form, but after making a promising start he fell to three-times French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten in the third round.
After a superlative 2004 that saw him net 11 titles, Federer has continued in much the same vein this year.
The Swiss embarked on a 25-match unbeaten streak following his epic semi-final defeat to Russia’s Marat Safin at the Australian Open in January.
He picked up four titles, including two Masters Series tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, before losing to Gasquet on clay in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo in April. That defeat came after a three-week lay-off due to inflamed feet.
In fact, the Swiss has lost only twice since his shock exit at the Olympic Games in Athens last summer, and he held match points during both defeats.
Sports journalist René Stauffer says Federer has to be considered as one of the favourites in Paris on the basis of that record alone. But he thinks his fellow countryman will have to pull out all the stops to lift the title.
"He has a very good chance if you look at the stats but he has never done very well in Paris," said Stauffer, who writes for the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper.
"The problem he has at Roland Garros is the centre court. He has played five times there and only won one match, so I don’t think you can be too optimistic," he told swissinfo.
Stauffer says Federer’s biggest threats in Paris will be the young Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who is currently on a hot streak, Argentina’s Guillermo Coria and Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, who is returning to his best after a poor 2004.
Much, though, will depend on the world number one’s ability to disrupt the baseliners’ rhythm. One weapon that Federer used to great effect in Hamburg was the drop shot, which Stauffer says is a recent addition to his armoury.
"He believes the variety of his play will give him so many options to open up matches. I’m really looking forward to seeing him try things that he might not have tried in the past on clay," said Stauffer.
"Obviously if the conditions are right he will also serve and volley, and chip and charge. But he knows that the main thing on clay is the baseline game – that’s the bread and butter."
In a warning to his rivals, Federer said he had yet to play his best on clay and there was plenty of room for improvement.
"I have the feeling that I’m back to a very good form on clay but good feelings don’t matter once the tournament starts," he said.
"But the more titles I win on clay, the better I feel for the French Open. The pressure there will of course be high but I’m looking forward to it."
swissinfo with agencies
Federer has won six titles so far this year: Doha, Rotterdam, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami and Hamburg.
He leads the ATP rankings by more than 100 points.
Last season he won 11 tournaments including Wimbledon, the Australian and US Open, and the Masters Cup.
Federer has been knocked out in the first round at Roland Garros on three occasions.
Last year he started brightly in Paris, before losing to Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten in the third round.
Federer will take on the Israeli Dudi Sela, ranked 245, in the first round of this year's competition.
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