PARIS — On the occasion of his record-tying 233rd victory in a Grand Slam match, Roger Federer was asked Monday whether he recalls which player he beat for his first win at a major tournament.
“Well, I should, shouldn’t I? Um, let me see,” Federer said, then hesitated and rubbed his eyes before conceding: “OK. I can’t remember.”
A reporter reminded him it was Michael Chang at the 2000 Australian Open.
“Was it? Well, that was a beautiful victory then,” the 16-time major champion replied with a grin.
Federer equaled Jimmy Connors’ Open era mark and improved to 233-35 at tennis’ top four tournaments by beating Tobias Kamke of Germany, 6-2, 7-5, 6-3, in the first round of the French Open.
“You step back, you realize you have been playing for quite a long time. … When I started, I loved playing against those famous players I used to see on TV. Now I’m playing against younger players, a new generation,” he said.
Connors won eight Grand Slam titles while going 233-49 from 1970-92, an .826 winning percentage bettered by Federer’s .869.
“Jimmy Connors was a huge champion. Still is,” Federer said.
Federer improved to 50-12 at Roland Garros, where his 2009 championship completed a career Grand Slam. Now Federer is the only man with at least 50 Open era match wins each at all four majors.
And here’s one more stat: Federer is playing in his 50th consecutive major tournament, the longest active streak and third-longest in the Open era, which began in 1968.
“Look, I obviously love the big tournaments,” he said. “I have been so successful for such a long time, and to already tie that record at 30 years old is pretty incredible.”
Only 22, just recently a Grand Slam champion and ranked No. 1 for the first time, Victoria Azarenka is still learning to think like a top player.
So trailing by a set and one point from being down 5-0 in the second at the French Open on Monday, Azarenka’s mind was filled with “a mix of things.”
“Sometimes I felt it was not my day,” she explained. “Sometimes I thought, ‘Yeah, maybe I still fight, I still have a chance.’ Sometimes it was like, ‘You know what? Forget it. I don’t want to do it.’”
And yet she did do it, listening to the most positive of those voices and beginning the climb back from a daunting deficit with a gutsy second-serve ace, of all things. Showing how far she’s come from the petulance of earlier in her career, Azarenka took 12 of the last 14 games to beat Alberta Brianti of Italy, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-2.
The top-seeded man, Novak Djokovic, limited his miscues to when he spoke to the crowd in French after a victory Monday, never even facing a break point while beating Potito Starace of Italy, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-1.
“It wasn’t that successful,” Djokovic said — referring to his on-court postmatch interview, not his play, as he began his bid to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title.
Other winners Monday included defending champion Li Na and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, who next meets seven-time major champion Venus Williams.