Roger Federer made a triumphant return to tennis Wednesday in Doha. In his first match in 405 days, Federer outlasted frequent practice partner Dan Evans 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-5.
“It feels good to be back,” Federer told the crowd. “I am happy to be standing here regardless of if I won or lost, but obviously winning feels better. It was a good match. Dan played a good match too. He has been a wonderful training partner as well.”
With both goes breezing on serve, Federer shook off a blown forehand volley miss late in the opening set breaker to go up 1-0.
Evans grabbed an early break in the second then served it out at love to win his first set against the Swiss.
Evans kept the pressure on in the third, but couldn’t convert at 3-all. Federer also missed chances but with the Brit serving 5-6, he got it done with a sizzling backhand winner for his first win in nearly 14 months.
“I felt actually really good and relaxed last night, even though it was like the night before,” Federer said. “Then in the morning I started to think about it and, I don’t know, you can just feel like you’re getting more tense again. Not that you could start worrying, but you’re actually getting more excited than anything else.
“I was really excited and happy the way I played. I mean, Dan was a tough first round, I thought, but the good thing was I probably practiced with him the last couple of weeks so I really knew what to expect. It’s just that when we were practicing, the court was faster in the past so this was slower.
“I knew it could be a little bit tricky how to construct the point against him on a slow court, but look, it felt great to be out there again regardless of the outcome. Losing in straight, winning in straight, winning in three, it’s going to give me a lot of answers. Interesting to see how I’m going to feel tomorrow, but right now I feel actually pretty good so I’m really pleased.”
Federer finished with 13 aces and zero double faults. He moved fairly well, though early on there were several shanks off the ground. And his volleys improved as the match went on.
“I realized that I had to come forward more and as the match went on longer, I was able to produce that and really come to the net more and take chances up there,” he said. “That obviously stresses the body more, because you’re trying to make those plays instead of just staying back and rallying, which can be sometimes a little bit easier in my mind, so which I was really happy about, was that I was really explosive, actually, even though of course I was going in swings of being tired again and then feeling better again.”
Evans, who falls to 0-4 Federer, admitted the former No. 1 is not fully back.
“I could feel certain parts were not quite there, but it was evident when it got tight he was way more aggressive in the third set,” Evans said.
“I actually thought he played his best tennis in the last three, four games, got himself out of trouble in I think 4-All game. Then when I was 5-4 down he really come at me. Yeah, I felt a lot of pressure from him, from his game, basically the back end of the match, which is where not ideal feeling him playing the best, probably the highest level of the match for him, I thought. Then probably pretty fitting he knitted a backhand down the line to win it.
“I’d say it’s clear he had been off, but I think obviously he showed a lot of glimpses of why he’s so good.”
The 39-year-old Federer will have little time for rest. He’s back on the court Thursday against the big-hitting Nikolaz Basilashvili.
In the match before Federer-Evans, Dominic Thiem opened his Doha campaign with a tough win over Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.
“I was up in the tiebreak and then I lost it, which was not nice, but he helped me a little bit in that first game. I think he was hitting two double faults,” Thiem stated.
“It’s always, after you lost a close set, it’s super important to have a good start to the next one. And that’s what I had. It was pretty fast, 3-0, and so I was positive again in my mind, and I also loosened up a little bit and started to play better.”
Andrey Rublev advanced courtesy of a Richard Gasquet walkover due to a leg injury. Denis Shapovalov, Roberto Bautista Agut and Taylor Fritz were also winners.
Tomorrow, the quarterfinals pit Shapovalov-Fritz, Rublev-Marton Fucsovics, Basilishvili-Federer, Thiem-Bautista Agut.
THURSDAY DOHA SCHEDULE
Centre Court Starts At 2:30 Pm
Taylor Fritz VS (4)Denis Shapovalov
(3)Andrey Rublev VS Marton Fucsovics
Not Before 6:00 Pm
Nikoloz Basilashvili VS (2) Roger Federer
(1) Dominic Thiem VS (5) Roberto Bautista Agut
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