Roger Federer used the disappointment of an early exit at the Gonet Geneva Open to trigger a positive response on his first appearance at Roland Garros for two years.
“I just felt overall much clearer, much better,” said Federer, who beat Denis Istomin 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in the first round. “I think [I’m] getting used to tournament and match rhythm again, the whole thing – the towels there, the shot clock there and everything that goes with it. I really felt like I didn’t find the rhythm [in Geneva].”
Two weeks ago, Federer lost to Pablo Andujar at the ATP 250 tournament in Geneva. It was just his third tour-level match of the season, following two right knee surgeries last year.
“I always struggle early on with my returning a little bit on clay,” admitted Federer, the 2009 Roland Garros champion. “Funny enough, you would think it’s the easier surface to return [on]. I don’t mind the grass-court and hard-court returns, as I’m blocking it more than hitting it.”
“I felt today I really made a bigger effort of going more in swings and not going through [the motions] like in the practice, where you just go point for point for point – let’s play a maximum amount of points. I sometimes have to tell myself, ‘Take a little bit of time, walk to the towel, do something different’. You might think it’s silly, but it’s true.”
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Federer, who is tied with joint record-holder Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam singles each, reached the 2019 semi-finals (l. to Nadal) when he last played on Parisian clay.
“For me coming back after many months or over a year of rehab, the light at the end of the tunnel or the measuring stick was always: Can I come back to a good level against good players? I hope Wimbledon is going to be that place. Maybe there’s going to be even something here in Paris. We’ll see.”
The 39-year-old is in the same half of the Roland Garros draw as his great rivals, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal.
“I hope I can stay healthy from now on forward,” said Federer, who plays Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the second round. “I’m quite confident that’s going to stay that way. I’ve also been getting better every month that’s [gone] by, which has been really positive. I didn’t have any setbacks in a year.”