French Open 2019

Federer back in the groove

After beating Italy's Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 yesterday, third seed Roger Federer, who last played at Roland Garros in 2015, declared that he had "missed playing in Paris so much".
After beating Italy's Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 yesterday, third seed Roger Federer, who last played at Roland Garros in 2015, declared that he had "missed playing in Paris so much".PHOTO: REUTERS

He makes winning return at Roland Garros, his 60th successive first-round win at a Slam

PARIS • Roger Federer marked his return to Roland Garros after a three-year absence with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win over Italy's Lorenzo Sonego yesterday, before admitting he had "missed playing in Paris so much".

The 20-time Grand Slam winner had not played the French Open since 2015 when he reached the quarter-finals.

However, in front of an expectant crowd at the rebuilt and packed Court Philippe Chatrier, it was as if the 37-year-old had never been away, sweeping to victory in one hour and 41 minutes.

It was his 60th successive first-round win at a Grand Slam and the Swiss was thrilled at the rapturous reception he received, complete with chants of "Roger, Roger" and standing ovations.

The world No. 3, who broke serve five times and fired 36 winners past his 73rd-ranked opponent, said: "Thanks for the welcome. I felt great playing on this court. It looks great and attractive, so congratulations to everyone involved.

"Hopefully, I can play here again for my next match. Two breaks in the first set was very important for me and when I was leading 4-0, I could take more risks, be more aggressive.

"I know that I can play very well on clay and I am very happy to win in straight sets."

WINNING FEELING

I know that I can play very well on clay and I am very happy to win in straight sets.

ROGER FEDERER, the 2009 French Open champion, feeling good about his return to Roland Garros after a three-year absence.

The 2009 French Open champion and third seed will next face lucky loser Oscar Otte on Wednesday for a place in the third round.

The 25-year-old German reached the first round despite having been beaten in qualifying and made the most of his second chance, seeing off Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 to book a place in the round of 64 of a Slam for the first time.

The world No. 145, whose guaranteed €64,000 (S$98,500) prize for getting to the second round at Roland Garros has already eclipsed his earnings for the year, added: "It will be a big match for me. I am looking forward to it."

In the other men's matches of the day, former US Open champion and 11th seed Marin Cilic of Croatia ousted Italy's Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 7-5, 6-1, while seventh-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan defeated French wildcard entry Quentin Halys 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

Greek contender Stefanos Tsitsipas also had little trouble eliminating German Maximilian Marterer, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), facing real resistance from his 110th-ranked opponent only in the final set.

The world No. 6, who is one of the young guns tipped to take over Federer's mantle, had already won on clay this term at Estoril, while progressing to the final in Madrid and the last four in Rome.

The 20-year-old kept up his fine form on the red dirt, blasting 36 winners past Marterer, although Tsitsipas conceded that he has to play "twice more focused" if he is to beat the big guns in the later rounds.

He said: "I am very satisfied. I was playing really well the first two sets of the match. Better than I thought I would. Third set was tricky. I stayed mentally strong and closed the tiebreak at the end."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2019, with the headline 'Federer back in the groove'. Print Edition | Subscribe