Roger Returns To Rome: 'My Excitement Couldn't Be Bigger'
In the end, coming to Rome for the first time since 2016 was an easy decision for Roger Federer, a four-time finalist at the ATP Masters 1000 event.
Would Federer rather practise in five-degree weather in Switzerland, or play matches at one his favourite cities in the world, in front of thousands of passionate Italian fans?
“I've just come from practising for five weeks after Miami. I think I was playing well in Madrid, so I just said, again, 'Let's come to Rome,' a city I like so much as well. There would be excitement, more excitement than me coming to a practice court in Switzerland. I thought that would be nice,” Federer said, smiling.
“Honestly, I love to play matches. Regardless of what happens here, I just think it's good for me to play matches at this stage.”
The 37-year-old last played at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome in 2016, falling to Dominic Thiem in the third round. Federer also lost to Thiem last week in the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open, where Federer ended his three-year absence from the surface.
After the loss on Friday, Federer said he was unsure if he'd play in Rome. But he made up his mind quickly, posting a video on social media on Saturday in which he confirmed his presence.
“I'm very happy to be here. I'm pumped up to play well. I mean, my excitement couldn't be bigger,” Federer said. “The moment I landed in Rome yesterday, I was so happy to be here. I love this city. Always enjoyed playing in Italy. It's probably the country I've played the most junior tennis in. Coming down from Switzerland to the clay courts was always a logical junior trip. They have very strong junior tournaments here. I love being here, especially in this city as well.”
Rome is one of only two Masters 1000 tournaments that Federer has not won, in addition to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. The Swiss reached the Rome final in 2003 (l. to Mantilla), 2006 (l. to Nadal), 2013 (l. to Nadal) and 2015 (l. to Djokovic).
Despite his long break from playing on clay, Federer said, he felt little rust during his return to the surface last week in Madrid.
“I think it always goes back to the fact that I did grow up on this surface. Sliding is something I actually enjoy doing. The problem is, like, the more time I spend on clay, maybe sometimes the more excited I get playing on the surface, start sliding around too much instead of actually moving sometimes like on the hard courts and only sliding when really required,” said Federer, who will face #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe or Portugal's Joao Sousa in the second round.
“I think this week, then next week in Paris, it's going to be interesting to see how I play the points, how I do it all. In Madrid, like we said, conditions were extremely fast, so you could play serve and volley, you could come to the net. Here maybe it's easier to play drop shots, easier maybe to go backhands up the line. On fast courts it's maybe not so simple to do that at will.
“I must say also in practice in Switzerland I felt good right away. Very happy where I'm at, to be quite honest. I was a bit surprised that it went as easy as it did.”