Roger Federer says he would have “always felt regrets” not returning to clay this year after marking his three-year absence from the surface with a rapid win over France’s Richard Gasquet at the Madrid Open.
The Swiss great, 37, needed just 53 minutes to win 6-2 6-3.
“It feels good to be back on the clay now and I enjoy it, to be honest,” fourth seed Federer said.
Gasquet did not look fully fit in his first tournament of 2019 after injury.
Nevertheless, the 20-time Grand Slam champion was at his ruthless best, delighting a mesmerised Caja Magica with a majestic display against the world number 39.
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Federer was making his return to the red dirt for the first time since losing to Austria’s Dominic Thiem at the 2016 Rome Masters, having missed that year’s French Open with a back injury and sitting out the past two clay-court swings in order to preserve his body.
“Once the decision was upon me again for this year, if I would have skipped the clay again, I think I would have felt like that’s not the right decision,” the former world number one said.
“I would have always felt regrets not being on the clay in 2019 because my knee problem is far enough away now.
“That was still playing a little bit part of our decision in 2017, to be quite honest, not from my side but more from the team.”
Federer is a three-time champion in Madrid and received a huge ovation from the crowd, which included Brazilian footballing great Ronaldo, when he arrived on the court.
And the Madrid fans – many of whom perhaps thought they would not see Federer here again – noisily rose to their feet again after he wrapped up a straightforward win.
“It’s been a special night for me to come back and play here,” Federer said.
“The crowds and the ovation I got before and after the game were great.
“It really makes you feel like that was the right choice to come to Madrid, so that felt good.”
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