Moments later, Federer closed that game with two more aces near lines, and he was well on his way to beating 29th-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. That put Federer in the fourth round at Roland Garros for the seventh consecutive year.
When Federer's serve is clicking, he's awfully tough to beat; it's one of several skills that propelled him to his record 16 Grand Slam titles, including the 2009 French Open. He does it with guile and placement, rather than overwhelming speed, never coming close to the 225 or 240 kph (140 or 150 mph) that big hitters such as Andy Roddick or Ivo Karlovic can produce.
"I don't know (if) anyone ever hit more lines from first serves than he did today. And I'm not saying that it has anything to do with luck. It was just big, good, precise serves," Tipsarevic said.
"I have problems if somebody is serving like Roger, really close to the lines. I don't think he served more than five serves over 200 kph (120 mph)," Tipsarevic continued, "but every serve was, like, 5 centimeters from the line or on the line." Federer's fastest serve Friday was clocked at 210 kph (130 mph), and he averaged 185 kph (115 mph) on first serves.
But it seemed as though he put nearly every ball right where he wanted to. (Including when there was a loose ball bouncing near the baseline between points, and Federer swung his racket behind his back and through his legs, and hit the ball right into the waiting hands of a ball boy at midcourt).
"Variation has always been a key to my serve, because I'm never going to be able to serve, you know, what Roddick and all those guys can serve at," Federer said. "So I have to move it around better, hide it with the toss and so forth.
I think right now it's going well." That's probably an understatement.
During three straight-set matches this week, his opponents have accumulated a total of only two break points, converting one. Federer has 29 aces and two double-faults.
Starting from late in the second set's sixth game Friday _ when Tipsarevic held his lone break point _ Federer won 27 of the last 34 points on his serve.
"Completely different player if he's leading or if he's losing," said Tipsarevic, who is 0-4 against Federer but pushed him to 10-8 in the fifth set at the 2008 Australian Open. "If he starts leading, or starts feeling confident on his service games, it's really tough to play him, because you never know what he's going to do." When Federer plays poorly, he'll often point to his serve as being problematic.
"Sometimes you go through days where it's easier and sometimes where it's a bit harder, and also depends on who you play," said Federer, who next faces either Swiss Davis Cup teammate Stanislas Wawrinka or No. 17 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. "So far in this tournament, I've been doing a good job, but it's really only at the end of the tournament where I would think it really matters how I did." He reached four finals in a row in Paris from 2005-09, losing the first three to Rafael Nadal.
A year ago, though, Federer was eliminated by Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals, ending a run of 23 Grand Slam semifinals in a row.
He lost in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, too, then at the semifinals at the U.S. Open and Australian Open, making this his longest stretch without a major title since he earned his first at the All England Club in 2003. It's also the first Grand Slam tournament since then that Federer isn't seeded No. 1 or No. 2.
Instead, he's seeded No. 3, behind Nadal and Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic.
Which, Federer says, is OK. He also says he's in a better place than he was 12 months ago.
"I'm at peace with my game right now. I'm physically fine. I think I had a good preparation, so there's no reason to get nervous," he said. "I'm still in the tournament. It's always nice to advance in the draw so well, so quickly."