STUTTGART (Germany) • Roger Federer was made to battle after a losing first set as the Swiss star made his long-awaited return to tennis yesterday with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 defeat of Mischa Zverev at the Stuttgart Cup.
The world No. 2 shook off the rust against his opponent after a poor start, breaking twice in the second and third sets to earn victory in 93 minutes.
"Three months is a long time, it's longer than the year-end break. So I'm very happy returning to the Tour on good," the 20-time Grand Slam winner said.
"It was difficult, missed some chances maybe in the first set... He connected well at the right times.
"And then I found a way, I found my rhythm... I'm very happy with how I played. I'm super happy to be back on Tour. It's been a great start."
Federer had four chances to break Zverev's serve in the German's first three service games, but could not convert before getting broken to love in the eighth game.
Federer, who exited in his opening match at the grass-court season curtain-raiser a year ago to Germany's Tommy Haas, can displace Spaniard Rafael Nadal from the world No. 1 spot if he reaches Sunday's final.
The 36-year-old Swiss finished to the cheers of a sold-out centre court. He dropped a set to Zverev for the first time in six career meetings but quickly recovered.
Federer skipped the clay-court season for a second year in succession in order to fully concentrate on his grass-court preparation, and is aiming to claim a record ninth Wimbledon title next month at the All England Club.
He finished off Zverev, who he beat a year ago in the third round at Wimbledon, on his first match point with a passing winner.
The top seed improved to 18-2 for the season as he began the pursuit of his 98th career trophy.
"It feels good to win again. I've lost my last two matches," said Federer, who lost to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro in the Indian Wells final before playing in Miami, where he fell to Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis. "It's nice to get a fresh start here."
He will next meet Argentina's Guido Pella or Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran.