Federer Returns With Ease In Rome
It was as if he was never away. Roger Federer, competing in Rome for the first time since 12 May 2016, advanced in straight sets Thursday to begin his return to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, the season's third and final clay-court ATP Masters 1000 event.
The Swiss broke three times to beat Portugal's Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-3 and please the thousands of fans inside Campo Centrale who had waited three years, three days – and a soaked Wednesday – to see the 28-time Masters 1000 champion return to the Eternal City. Federer, along with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, was scheduled to play on Wednesday but a complete washout pushed back his opening match to Thursday.
The Swiss was sliding around the red dirt in Rome, comfortably hitting forehand winners and drop shots, including when he broke Sousa in the seventh game of the opener. The four-time Rome finalist carried his momentum into the second set, breaking to start and again in the ninth game. Federer saved all seven break points he faced.
“I'm happy we got to play a good match. I think it's a slippery court here, I must say. It's tough to play I think for all the players. Every clay court plays slightly different: Monaco, Madrid, Barcelona, here, Paris. I think when it's a bit nicer weather here, it slides a lot,” Federer said. “I came out of the blocks well, had a good feeling. Didn't get broken. That on clay in a first round is a good sign.”
The third seed will next face Croatian Borna Coric later Thursday in what will be their sixth FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting and second of the season. Federer leads the series 3-2, which includes his Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships semi-final victory in February.
Coric is one of only four players who had reached the third round before Wednesday's washout. The Croatian beat Brit Cameron Norrie 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday evening.
“I think, like any other practice day when you play twice a day, you finish the first session, take a shower, eat something, relax, get ready for the next one,” Federer said. “The good thing is that this one was not very physical. I think it gives me some good information. I believe it's going to be similar conditions in the match this afternoon.
“The interesting thing is I played today, he didn't. Is that an advantage? Is that a disadvantage? I don't know. Borna is tough. I lost to him a couple times last year. He played really good against me in Halle, Shanghai. Regardless of the surface, I know it's going to be tough.”
Elsewhere, eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas got off to a strong start in his 6-3, 6-2 second-round win over Italian wild card Jannik Sinner in 87 minutes. Sinner recovered from 0-3 in the first set, but the World No. 263 was broken twice in the second set.
Tenth-seeded Italian Fabio Fognini completed second-round play at 5:35 p.m. local time with a 7-6(6), 6-3 win over Radu Albot of Moldovia. Fognini, who now plays Tsitsipas in the third round later on Thursday, had one set point at 5-4, with Albot serving at 30/40, and then saved a set point at 5/6 in the first set tie-break.