It’s been 1,090 days since Roger Federer played a clay court tournament. Call it a hiatus, a sabbatical, a self-imposed exile from the red dirt – the Swiss’ absence has now been replaced with a triumphant return. Federer thrilled in his first clay tournament since the Italian Open in May 2016. Watching the match, it looked as though he’d never left. In a mere 53 minutes, the three-time Madrid Open champion turned in a commanding 6-2 6-3 win over France’s Richard Gasquet. A great way to usher in his return to clay, no doubt.
The Form of a Champion
Watching Federer play, it’s easy to see why he’s lifted the Mutua Madrid Open trophy three times. It was time well spent practicing in the high altitude of Felsberg, Switzerland the last few weeks. Though clay takes a different approach, a learned slide and the stamina to endure lengthy points, it’s nothing new to Federer. After all, he grew up playing on clay.
The 37-year-old’s clay-court talents were at their merciless best, much to Gasquet’s chagrin. The Swiss crafted stunning drop shots, including one as a return of serve. Seemingly impossible shots looked easy coming off the Federer racquet. Even when Gasquet stretched Federer wide during rallies, the fourth seed found the down the line winner. The befuddled Frenchman had no answer to the GOAT’s continued attack. Gasquet is obviously not at his best, playing in his second tournament since groin surgery. Nevertheless, there was nothing Gasquet could muster to stop a fully in-form Federer.
Madrid Suits the Maestro
Perhaps it’s the long-standing Rafa/Roger rivalry that so delights the Spanish crowds. But, the Swiss Maestro entered Manolo Santana, the court named after the honorary tournament president, amid rousing crowd support, with love of Federer so apparent. And, after a straightforward win, the crowd rose to its feet again. In Federer’s post-match interview he said, “It’s been a special night for me to come back and play here. 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.”
A Look at the Second Round
Vying for a Federer faceoff are Gael Monfils and Marton Fucsovics. Despite an achilles injury, Monfils has been turning in some career best performances. The fast courts of Madrid will prove no challenge for the wily Frenchman. His speed and agility will put him precisely on top of the ball. Head to head against Roger Federer, Monfils comes up short with Federer leading 9-4. Yet, Monfils is capable of upsetting the Swiss. Hungarian Marton Fucsovics will have a tall task in getting past Monfils. And, after jumping that hurdle, a win against Federer would seem unlikely. In fact, Fucsovics has yet to win against the Swiss. Regardless of the opponent, you can be sure that Federer will bring the game and grit to the second round. And, it certainly won’t hurt to have the boisterous crowd in full support of The Maestro.
And What About Rome?
While Federer is on the Rome Open entry list, it’s possible the Swiss will withdraw from Masters 1000. But for now, until we see how Madrid goes, Federer is keeping his options open.
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