Roger Federer was made to battle after a losing first set as the Swiss star made his long-awaited return to tennis yesterday with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 defeat of Mischa Zverev at the Stuttgart Cup.
The world number two shook off the rust against his German opponent after a poor start, breaking twice in the second and third sets to earn victory in 93 minutes.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner, who exited in his opening match at the grass court season curtain-raiser a year ago to friend Tommy Haas, can displace Rafael Nadal from the world’s top ranking spot if he reaches Sunday’s final. The 36-year-old finished to the cheers of a sold-out centre court on a chilly day.
“I’m happy to have won a match after losing my last two (Indian Wells, Miami in March),” Federer said. “This is a new start. I’m glad to have been able to win again, overcoming some difficult moments after being a set down. Mischa’s level dropped in the last two sets and that gave me a chance to win. “It feels a lot like home here, since it’s only two hours of driving from Basel. It’s a great place, but I’m hoping for some sun this week.”
Federer lost the first set to Zverev, older brother of world number three Alexander Zverev, but quickly recovered to post his sixth win in as many meetings in the series.
The Swiss was playing his first match in nearly three months after skipping the spring clay court season for a second year in succession in order to fully concentrate on his grass preparation.
He is aiming to claim a record ninth Wimbledon title next month at the All England Club.
Federer finished off Zverev, whom he beat a year ago in the Wimbledon third round, on his first match point, a passing winner. The top seed improved to 18-2 on the season as he began the pursuit of his 98th career trophy.
In first round play, German Maximillian Merterer lined up as the first opponent for fourth seed Nick Kyrgios with a defeat of Croatian lucky loser Viktor Galovic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran, ranked a career-best 169, achieved a win in his first ATP main draw appearance, beating Canadian sixth seed Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (8/6), 2-6, 6-3 for the first upset of the week.
Frenchman Benoit Paire hammered 14 aces in his defeat of American Taylor Fritz 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-2. Paire will next face Czech third seed Tomas Berdych.
Canada’s seventh seed Milos Raonic, his ranking down to 35th, marked his comeback from injury after last playing in Madrid nearly six weeks ago, by seeing off Bosnian Mirza Basic 7-6 (10/8), 6-2.
Nadal to miss Wimbledon warm-up at Queen’s
Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from next week’s Wimbledon warm-up event at Queen’s Club as the world number one takes a break following his latest French Open triumph.
Nadal crushed Dominic Thiem to clinch his 11th French Open title on Sunday, but the Spaniard hinted after the final that the toll on his body
might force him to miss part of the grass-court campaign.
The 32-year-old is drained after playing 27 matches on clay over the last two months and, after consulting with his medical team, he confirmed that he won’t play at Queen’s this year.
“Queen’s is a great event, I have happy memories of winning the title in 2008 and I wanted to come back this year. But it has been a very long clay court season for me with great results,” Nadal said in a statement released by tournament organisers.
“I would like to say sorry to the tournament organisers and most of all to the fans that were hoping to see me play, but I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.”
Nadal has admitted he finds it hard to make the transition from clay to grass, with the low bounce on the surface in England often threatening to aggravate the knee injuries that have plagued him in the latter stages of his glittering career. It is the third consecutive year Nadal has entered the tournament only to pull out before it has started.
“We are obviously disappointed that Rafa has decided that he is unable to play this year, but we wish him well and hope to see him on our courts in the future,” said tournament director Stephen Farrow.
Nadal’s absence from the west London event will raise doubts about his chances of winning Wimbledon for a third time. The 17-time Grand Slam champion last won at the All England Club in 2010 and hasn’t been past the last 16 since 2011.
Meanwhile former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli has abandoned her attempted return to the Tour, saying her right shoulder is not strong enough to cope with the rigours of professional Tennis.
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