Roger Federer’s return to competitive play was always going to be high light of the week following his tentative return last March in Doha where he lost to Nicoloz Basilashvili and decided that fitness wise, he wasn’t quite ready.
People expect a lot from me and I have high expectations for myself. So when I walk out of a match and feel I could have played so much better, it feels strange and it’s disappointing Roger Federer
The 39-year-old Swiss icon who had two knee operations after the Australian Open in 2020, is now fighting to re-establish himself on the ATP Tour and his loss to Pablo Andujar of Spain, in his first comeback match, won’t have helped.
The Spaniard, ranked 75, who has also been under the surgeon’s knife suffering five operations on his elbow over the last few years, the last in 2019, beat the former world No1 currently ranked eight, in round two of the Gonet Geneva Open, 6-4 4-6 6-4 to boost his own confidence and dent that of his opponent.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion had been hoping to find some form on the Geneva clay only to fall at the first hurdle following an opening round bye, in his first defeat on home soil in seven and a half years.
“It’s good to be back on the court but then you lose a match like this and you’re down,” a disappointed Federer said after his loss.
“I know my limitations at the moment.
“People expect a lot from me and I have high expectations for myself. So when I walk out of a match and feel I could have played so much better, it feels strange and it’s disappointing.”
He promised to go away and analyse what went wrong and reminded those present that his goal is to get ready for the grass of Wimbledon and then the Tokyo Olympics. Clay events including the French Open are just stepping stones to bigger goals.
“This is the process I need to go through. I can’t get too down on myself,” he explained.
“I need to go back to the drawing board and talk to the team and say ‘what’s the plan here for the next 10 days?’.
“What did they see from the outside that maybe I didn’t see and feel? There’s going to be a lot of conversations.”
Federer, who holds a record eight Wimbledon singles titles, said: “Really, the season starts on the grass.
“What’s important is the next few weeks, regardless if you play tournaments or not, it’s if you’re back on the tour, practising with top guys, going through the rhythm. This is how you then start taking better decisions.”
There were flashes of the great Federer during the match and his movement about the court kept Andujar on his toes – hat he lacked though was consistency.
After dropping the opening set, Federer came back nicely in the second and built a break to lead in the third but then the errors starting to creep in allowing his 35-year-old adversary to creep back into the contest ad take the match by winning the last four consecutive games.
“Of course at 4-2 in the third you feel like, ‘Oh, that’s nice that I was able to turn around the match.’ You start feeling better and that’s when it dips and everything is over 10 minutes later,” Federer said.
“I just could feel that the moment was getting tougher, the game wasn’t there. Obviously, missing way too much maybe to come through even though 4-3 and a break. The chances were all there. But again I thought he played good down the stretch and I just couldn’t come up with the goods.”
Incredible, both well into their 30s, this was their first meeting, and Andujar ranked this win at the top.
“Number one for sure,” Andujar said. “To win a tournament could be more emotional, but this is something I think I will remember my whole life.”
Federer was playing his first clay match since his 2019 French semi-final loss to Rafael Nadal.
Andujar will now face either Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, the 2018 Geneva winner, or Swiss teenager Dominic Stricker, the 2020 French Open boys’ champion, in the quarter-finals.
Stricker stunned the 2014 US Open winner and world number 46 Marin Cilic 7-6(5) 6-1 in the first round on Tuesday in what was the 18-year-old wildcard’s first senior match on the ATP Tour.