Snowman Laaksonen emerges from Federer shadow, at least for day

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Breakthrough: Switzerland's Henri Laaksonen is into the third round of a Slam for the first time

Switzerland's Henri Laaksonen stepped out of the giant shadow of Roger Federer at the French Open on Wednesday, at least for a day, when he reached the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time and cast his mind back to playing clay court tennis on snow.

The late-blooming Laaksonen defeated 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 to finally etch his name into a headline, which when it comes to Swiss tennis usually features Federer and occasionally Stan Wawrinka.

It took until Paris for the 29-year-old to win his first main draw match of this year.

That he should he snap his drought in the French capital makes sense as it was on clay in his native Finland where he mastered his technique.

"They opened the clay courts really early, sometimes like the end of March, beginning of April already," he recalled Wednesday of his boyhood.

"Yeah, sometimes we were playing when it was snowing a little bit but we always had a quite long clay season actually."

Laaksonen lost in qualifying at Roland Garros in his first four visits before finally making it to the main draw in 2019 when Novak Djokovic ended his run in the second round.

Last year, he qualified again only to lose to Uruguayan dirt-baller Pablo Cuevas.

Ranked at 150 in the world, he was back in qualifying again this year before seeing off Germany's Yannick Hanfmann in his opener.

His run to the third round has already guaranteed him a pay cheque of over $136,000. In the whole of last year, he made $126,000.

"Last year was tough because we didn't have tournaments. So there was no income. I was lucky to qualify also to Australian Open main draw, so that helped me a little bit," he added.

His goal now is now to return to the top 100 and hopefully better his career high of 93 achieved in August 2017.

Next up is either Russian 23rd seed Karen Khachanov or Japan's Kei Nishikori.

"To be honest, I wasn't expecting that I win today, so first I have to enjoy this one and then I think I have a day off tomorrow.

"I do my practice, and then when I have the next match, I try to continue from there where I left today. I want to improve my game and trying to get better."

One thing he will be certain of doing is watching what he eats before he returns to action on Friday.

Back in 2018, Laaksonen found himself struggling to practice and having to spend two days at a time in bed.

From February to June, he won just one match.

As an experiment, he gave up eating salmon which he had enjoyed three or four times a week ever since childhood.

"When I ate it again, the next day I got a fever again of 38 degrees and in all my tendons and ligaments I had pain," he said.

When he ceased his salmon diet again, he was pain-free.

"My body was starting to work again in a more normal way," a relieved Laaksonen said.

dj/jc