Monday 23 September 2019

Federer enjoying life as an 'outsider' on his Roland Garros return

Roger Federer in action during his first round match against Italy's Lorenzo Sonego. Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Roger Federer in action during his first round match against Italy's Lorenzo Sonego. Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

'Retour Sur Terre' - or Back To Earth - was the headline on the Roland Garros programme yesterday, writes Simon Briggs.

It saluted Roger Federer's first appearance on the French Open's crushed brick, known to the locals as terre battue, since he lost to Stan Wawrinka here in the 2015 quarter-final.

To watch Federer yesterday, though, was to acknowledge that his extra-terrestrial gifts remain intact.

He seemed to float above the court as he eliminated Lorenzo Sonego in only 101 minutes: 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Federer doesn't see himself as a leading contender for this title, he said afterwards. But we can be confident that no one is looking forward to facing him.

"It's nice to be an outsider," Federer said.

"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," Federer added. "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."

Four years is a long time in tennis - especially at a venue where several stadia have been either demolished or renovated since Federer's last visit.

But there was no sense of a settling-in period; quite the reverse, in fact, as he broke serve twice in the first 12 minutes to rush out to a 3-0 lead.

Despite competing hard in sets two and three, Sonego was left bemused by Federer's variety of spins and angles.

"I feel that the public missed me, and I missed them, as well," said Federer after the match.

"After not playing here for many years, there was some buzz, which I could feel on the central court when I was training and when I was playing today."

In the other matches, the new Court Simonne-Mathieu was inaugurated by former Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, who beat Taylor Townsend of the USA in three sets.

But the reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber was among the first fallers, going down in straight sets to Russia's Anastasia Potapova.

Afterwards, Kerber said that the result had not been much of a surprise in view of her fractured clay-court build-up.

"Of course I'm disappointed," Kerber said, "but I tried everything the last two weeks to be here. At the end, I didn't have matches before (and) I couldn't practise very good. So I really don't have too much expectation."

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