After 405 Days, Roger Makes Winning Return In Doha

Federer owns a 27-3 record at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open

In his first appearance since the 2020 Australian Open, Roger Federer made a winning return to the ATP Tour on Wednesday at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha.

The three-time Doha champion showcased his fighting spirit to save a set point at 5/6 in the first-set tie-break and he closed the match with a late break at 6-5 in the decider to beat Daniel Evans 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-5.

“It feels good to be back,” Federer said in an on-court interview. “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. Over the past two weeks, we played over 20 sets and it went on [tonight].”

“It has been a long and tough road for me. I enjoyed it though,” said Federer. “It has been a huge challenge of mine in my tennis career and to come back at my age is not something that is very simple. I have had a wonderful team around myself that always supported me throughout. That made it much easier and it was worth it because I played a good match today.”

Federer was not only challenged by an in-form opponent on Centre Court. The 103-time tour-level titlist also needed some time to adjust to the most recent rules on the ATP Tour. Federer, whose last ATP Tour appearance came at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals, sought advice from umpire Mohamed Lahyani about shot clock and towel box rules (see video). When Federer last played on the ATP Tour, ball kids still handled towels, but not today, leading him to unpackage his own at start of the match.

Despite a reduced crowd in Doha due to COVID-19 restrictions, Federer received a warm welcome to Centre Court. Federer repaid local fans for their support with a thrilling opening set, which went all the way to a tie-break. The 20-time Grand Slam champion fired multiple forehand winners, including one at 5/6 to save set point, and came to the net to rush his opponent. On his third set point, Federer struck his second cross-court backhand passing shot of the tie-break to clinch the set.

Evans took his attack to Federer’s backhand and rushed the net to save a break point in the opening game of the second set. It proved to be a crucial moment for the Brit, as he forced Federer into backhand errors three games later to earn the first break of the match. Evans maintained his advantage to serve for the set at 5-3, and he showed no sign of nerves to claim four straight points.

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After escaping two break points with a mix of pace and precision at 3-3 in the decider, Federer ripped groundstroke winners and applied scoreboard pressure to earn match point at 5-4. But Evans charged to the net behind his serve to stay in the match. Two games later, Federer earned two more chances and he took the first with a backhand winner down the line.

“I said, ‘If I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out swinging.’ Dan had more energy left at the end, but I was serving well and I thought I actually played a really, really good match,” said Federer. “I’m incredibly happy about my performance… It was nice to finish off with a backhand down the line.”

Watch Federer's quarter-final match in Doha Thursday not before 6 p.m. local time. Key times around the world:

Shanghai: 11 p.m.
Mumbai: 8.30 p.m.
Paris: 4 p.m.
London: 3 p.m.
Rio de Janeiro: 12 noon
New York: 10 a.m.
San Francisco: 7 a.m.
Melbourne: 2 a.m. (Friday)

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“I actually thought he played his best tennis in the last three [or] four games,” said Evans. “[He] got himself out of trouble [at 3-3 and] then when I was 4-5 down he really came at me. I felt a lot of pressure from him, from his game.”

Federer will face Nikoloz Basilashvili in the quarter-finals. The Georgian broke Malek Jaziri on six occasions to record a 6-2, 6-2 win on Court B. Federer won his only previous ATP Head2Head encounter against Basilashvili 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 at the 2016 Australian Open.

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