Federer returns to Roland Garros in style

Roger Federer, the 2009 champion returned to Roland Garros on Sunday with a straightforward 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win against Italian Lorenzo Sonego, four years after hitting his last ball on the Parisian clay. The Swiss broke five times and hit 36 winners to get off the court in less than two hours.

“There has been some pressure in the beginning, obviously some nerves, many people wanted to know how it was going to be for me, how I was going to be back.

“There has been a lot of attention lately with my return. When I started the match, I started it well, so it shows that the pressure is not acting on me,” Federer said.

“I was right away playing well on the centre court here in Roland Garros. The duration of the match wasn't a problem. No problems with my body before or after the match. And then I have two-and-a-half days. It's ideal for me for the start of the tournament.”

Federer missed 2016 Roland Garros because of injury and chose to skip the 2017 and 2018 clay-court swings to prepare for the grass-court season.

But he's returned to the European swing with success this year, making the quarter-finals in both Madrid and Rome, although he pulled out of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Rome because of a leg injury, a decision Federer later described as “precautionary”.

“Now I'm very happy I took that decision, because I enjoyed Madrid, I enjoyed Rome. I'm happy to be here. The reception I got today was crazy, was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this. It was a beauty. So I'm very, very happy,” Federer said.

The Swiss won his only Roland Garros title 10 years ago, beating Swede Robin Soderling in the final to complete the Career Grand Slam. He made the quarter-finals in 2015, falling to countryman Stan Wawrinka. Federer will next meet German lucky loser Oscar Otte, who beat Tunisian Malek Jaziri 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0.

Federer is 23-3 win-loss this season and has picked up two titles, in Dubai and Miami, from three finals reached, yet he feels he comes to Roland-Garros as an "outsider" with the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem considered the top three favourites for the title.

For a 20-time Grand Slam champion, not being the top contender sounds ridiculous, but he's relishing the moment either way.

“It's nice to be an outsider. That's how I feel, anyhow. Just see how it goes. I know when Wimbledon comes around, sure, I'll be probably a higher favourite,” said Federer, who has a record eight Wimbledon crowns.

“That's okay, too. I'm happy that I'm there where I am. For many years it was either, if I don't win, it's a disappointment, and you explain yourself in the press room. People, like, don't understand why you lost. And so I feel like if I lost first round or in the finals or wherever it is, people would be, like, 'Okay, that could have happened'.

“I like that approach for me also once in a while. It relaxes you on the bigger points maybe or it relaxes you subconsciously as you walk through the grounds and go to practice and go to the press room. This is not a show I'm putting on. This is the truth. I really don't know how far I can go in this event, and I am very happy with my first round. It was a really good performance, I thought, from my side for not having played here for as long as I did.”

Date: 26 May 2019, Source: ATP and Roland Garros


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