Things learned from Fed's return

Roger Federer makes winning return to Roland-Garros with victory over Sonego.

Roger Federer Roland Garros 2019 first round Sonego©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

Roger Federer may have not played a match at Roland-Garros in four years but you wouldn't have been able to tell watching his first-round performance against Italian Lorenzo Sonego on Sunday.

The 2009 champion looked every bit his comfortable self on Court Philippe-Chatrier as he posted a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory over the 24-year-old Italian to set up a second round against German lucky loser Oscar Otte.

Serve on point

Federer will no doubt be very pleased with his serving on Sunday. The No.3 seed landed 74 per cent of his first serves, firing five aces against two double faults. He won 84 per cent of his first-serve points and 61 per cent on his second serve. He was broken just once, in the sixth game of the second set, but shook it off immediately en route to a comfortable victory.

Unfazed by power

Facing a power-hitter with a slingshot for a serve – Sonego’s average first-serve speed was more than 190km/hr during the match – Federer had no problem handling the Italian’s pace. The Swiss won 45 per cent of his receiving points and managed to break Sonego’s serve five times from 11 break opportunities.

All-out attack

Federer was, unsurprisingly, in an aggressive mode, and even serve-and-volleyed at times. He ventured to the net on 30 occasions and was successful 25 times on those trips up front. The 37-year-old struck an impressive 36 winners against just 15 unforced errors and wrapped up the win in one hour and 41 minutes.

Crowd favourite

They say absence makes the heart go fonder and it certainly looked that way judging from the massive crowds that filled the newly-refurbished Court Philippe-Chatrier to witness Federer’s first match at Roland-Garros since 2015.

Federer is obviously one of the most popular athletes on the planet, so this is not really news to anyone, but it certainly felt like the fanfare around him on Sunday was extra special. Nice to see a full house on the opening day of the tournament!

Happy to be an 'outsider'

Federer is 23-3 win-loss this season and has picked up two titles, in Dubai and Miami, from three finals reached, yet he feels he comes to Roland-Garros as an "outsider" with the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem considered the top three favourites for the title.

For a 20-time Grand Slam champion, not being the top contender sounds ridiculous, but he's relishing the moment either way.

"It's nice to be an outsider. That's how I feel, anyhow. Just see how it goes. I know when Wimbledon comes around, sure, I'll be probably a higher favourite," said Federer, who has a record eight Wimbledon crowns.

"That's okay, too. I'm happy that I'm there where I am. For many years it was either, if I don't win, it's a disappointment, and you explain yourself in the press room. People, like, don't understand why you lost. And so I feel like if I lost first round or in the finals or wherever it is, people would be, like, 'Okay, that could have happened'.

"I like that approach for me also once in a while. It relaxes you on the bigger points maybe or it relaxes you subconsciously as you walk through the grounds and go to practice and go to the press room. This is not a show I'm putting on. This is the truth. I really don't know how far I can go in this event, and I am very happy with my first round. It was a really good performance, I thought, from my side for not having played here for as long as I did."

High praise

Federer told press after his match that he was pleased with how he played, and was impressed by Sonego, whom he had never played before. Sonego reached the quarter-finals of the Monte-Carlo Masters as a qualifier last month and hit a career-high ranking of 66 soon after.

"I thought he's fast on his feet, has a nice forehand, good first serve, so I see why he can be very dangerous for a lot of guys on the court, regardless of clay or other surfaces. I thought he was strong today under the circumstances of a first round of a major like this with a full crowd. I think he did very well," said the Swiss of the 24-year-old Sonego.

Lorenzo Sonego and Roger Federer 2019©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT