Roger Federer's highly anticipated comeback to clay this year wasn't a immediate success as he bowed out to Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open and withdrew before his quarterfinal match at the Italian Open. But he did play some good matches in both the tournaments, and showed that he is still comfortable playing on clay.
He also made it quite clear that he was not expecting huge results coming into the claycourt season. It would be really tough for Federer to go deep in the ongoing French Open, as the competition from his peers and the next generation players is intense. For Federer to withstand this storm, his physical fitness would play a big role.
Federer's approach on clay hasn't changed much as he is playing with the same aggression he showed in the earlier hardcourt season. While this tactic works against younger players playing Federer for the first time in their careers, the Swiss might struggle to get things going his way when the tournament goes deeper.
In his first round match against the Italian player Lorenzo Sonego, Federer cruised through in straight sets without giving any chance to the Italian to bounce back. While Sonego tried to go deep in the second set, Federer's experience was too much as he took the match 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
The real trouble for Federer might start from the third round as he could possibly face Casper Ruud or Matteo Berrettini, both of whom play well on clay. If Federer passes that challenge, he could face Diego Schwartzman or Philipp Kohlschreiber for a place in the quarter-finals.
Both Schwartzman and Kohlschreiber can take advantage of Federer's gameplay and could easily wear him. They are both exceptional baseline players and can create trouble for the Swiss before the quarter-finals.
It will be interesting to see how Federer's body reacts if he reaches that far. He has looked exhausted whenever any player has pushed him to his limit by extending the rallies, and Schwartzman and Kohlschreiber can do exactly that.
Even if his physical condition remains good after the fourth round, he might have to face talented prodigy Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals. The young Greek is looking in some good touch on clay this year, and he has already proved that he can create trouble for Federer as he defeated him in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
If Federer finds a way with all his experience and beats Tsitsipas, he will likely face his long-time rival Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. The outcome of that match will depend greatly on how Federer's body feels after the quarters. Even though Federer defeated Nadal on all four occasions in 2017, it is going to be difficult for him to do the same on clay, especially at Roland Garros.
If he somehow does get the job done though, he will face either Novak Djokovic or Dominic Thiem in the final.
Federer's projected route to the title:
1st round: defeated Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4
2nd round: Oscar Otte
3rd round: Casper Ruud / Matteo Berrettini
4th round: Diego Schwartzman / Philipp Kohlschreiber
Quarter-finals: Stefanos Tsitsipas
Semi-finals: Rafael Nadal
Finals: Novak Djokovic / Dominic Thiem