- ATP Tour
Federer returns with classy win
Roger Federer showed no signs of rustiness after his eight-week break from the ATP Tour with a comfortable 6-3 6-3 second-round win over Radek Stepanek at the Mutua Madrid Open.
The world No. 2, playing for the first time since his quarter-final defeat by Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells in March, looked like he had never been away as he broke the Czech in the fourth game to assume control of the opening set.
Stepanek is capable of upsetting a player's rhythm with his variety of spin and angles, but the 34-year-old rarely threw Federer off his game. The defending champion looked light on his feet on his first competitive clay-court outing of the season and, while he was forced to fend off a couple of break points, he secured the first set with a minimum of fuss.
Federer broke to open up a 2-1 lead at the start of the second set, twice wrong-footing Stepanek with a pair of stunning cross-court backhands that opened up the court. From there the Swiss took his foot off the gas, happy to take on Stepanek at his own game with a number of forays to the net and odd flashes of his vintage brilliance from the baseline.
A second break soon followed to leave Federer serving for the match but Stepanek refused to bow out meekly, saving five match points and converting his sixth break point in a nine-minute game to stay in the match at 5-3.
It was a brief stay of execution. Federer wrapped up victory with his third break of the set when Stepanek flashed a forehand well wide, and will face either Japan's Kei Nishikori or Viktor Troicki in the third round.
Federer played down suggestions that extended he may limit his tournament schedule and take breaks such as his recent two-month absence more regularly to extend his career, insisting his goal is to play "at least 15 tournaments per year."
"It's not really my goal, to be honest, to play the minimum [amount of] tournaments," said Federer, who will face either Japan's Kei Nishikori or Viktor Troicki in the third round. "Of course I'd like to play as long as possible but it's not a matter of playing minimum tournaments - you want to try to win the ones you play, you want to play enough.
"Playing just the minimum means you're often playing very rusty, you don't have momentum, you don't have confidence - it's quite difficult to play that way. This year is a bit different, now I've had this big stretch, but after this, for the year, it's going to be a normal schedule.
"I hope that this is going to be refreshing for me - I haven't been home to Switzerland for seven straight weeks since…I don't know, 1997? And I chose to do that without being injured."
Elsewhere, No. 16 seed Gilles Simon booked his place in the third round with a 6-4 7-6(5) victory over French compatriot Jeremy Chardy, but fellow countryman Richard Gasquet slumped to a shock defeat at the hands of Daniel Gimeno-Traver, the Spaniard ousting the No. 8 seed 7-5 3-6 6-4.
In the last of the first round action, Stanislas Wawrinka eased his way through to the second round, the No. 15 seed seeing off Romanian qualifier Marius Copil 6-4 6-4. No. 9 seed Janko Tipsarevic was dumped out by Argentina's Juan Monaco 7-6(5) 6-3. No such problems for Tommy Haas, who made light work of Andreas Seppi in a 6-1 6-2 victory.
Mikhail Youzhny was pushed to the limit to book his second round spot, taking nearly two and a half hours to beat Fabio Fognini 7-6(4) 2-6 7-6(5). Colombian qualifier Santiago Giraldo progressed with a 6-2 6-4 win over Martin Klizan, while Benoit Paire brushed aside Joao Souza 6-1 7-6(0).