Federer Routs Gasquet In Madrid Clay-Court Return

Swiss last played on clay at 2016 Rome

He sure didn't look like a man who hasn't played on the surface in three years. Roger Federer sped past Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-3 in only 52 minutes on Tuesday at the Mutua Madrid Open, showing no rust in his first clay-court match since 12 May 2016.

The Swiss broke Gasquet once in each set and raced through his service games, much like he did en route to his 28th ATP Masters 1000 title at the Miami Open presented by Itau in March, the last time Federer competed on the ATP Tour.

I'm very happy to be back on clay. Super happy to be back here in Madrid. 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,” Federer said. “The first game went well. I didn't think Richard was at his best, far off. But from my side, it was a good match.”

The Swiss was gliding on the red dirt and thinking clearly with his shot selection. He offered a couple “Are you kidding me?” drop shots, including one during a service return, to close out the opening set. Federer finished with 28 winners to 20 unforced errors.

Gasquet, who was playing in only his second tour-level match of the year after undergoing groin surgery on 18 January, recovered well in the second set, stretching Federer wide during rallies. But the Swiss' attacking tennis was too much for the Frenchman, and Federer won the final two games to improve to 18-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series and has won their past 22 sets.

"It was nice seeing [Gasquet] back after so many months being away from the Tour with injury. I think for both of us it was a special match being back here in Madrid," Federer said.

"[Crowd was] great. It's been wonderful. I think, always in Spain, I've been well-received over the last decade or so just because of my rivalry with Rafa and all the other Spanish players, like Ferrer and so forth. So the people really know me. They followed my matches closely for so many years. They heard me speak, and they feel like they kind of know me. So then when I come to their markets, I think they appreciate it, and so do I. Full house, special atmosphere, so I appreciate it."

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Federer skipped the clay-court season the past two years to rest and prepare for the grass-court swing, during which Federer has won 18 titles, including eight Wimbledons. But the 37-year-old decided in January that he'd be sliding on the red dirt this European clay-court season, and so far so good. The fourth seed will next face Hungary's Marton Fucsovics or France's Gael Monfils. Fucsovics won more than half of his second-serve points and beat David Goffin 6-4, 7-5.

Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell champion Dominic Thiem advanced when American Reilly Opelka retired down 7-6(2), 3-6, 0-1 (lower back). Thiem, the fifth seed and two-time finalist, will face the winner of Aussie John Millman and Italian Fabio Fognini. Millman swept Steve Johnson of the U.S. 7-6(5), 7-6(5), and Fognini, the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters champion, knocked out Brit Kyle Edmund 6-4, 6-3.

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