Tennis

Roger Federer glad to be back on clay

Swiss great takes just 52 minutes to see off Gasquet in his first match on the surface in three years

Roger Federer made an impressive return to clay by easing past Richard Gasquet to reach the last 16 of the Madrid Open yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The 20-time Grand Slam winner took just 52 minutes to see off the Frenchman 6-2, 6-3 in what was his first match on clay in three years after skipping the 2017 and 2018 seasons on the surface to manage a knee injury.

"I was very calm all day, but two hours before, I was feeling it a bit. But that was the only time," Federer said.

"The nerves went away quickly, I'm just happy I started well. I'm glad to be back," added the three-time Madrid champion, whose last match on clay ended in a defeat by Dominic Thiem in the third round of the Italian Open on May 12, 2016.

Federer, 37, skipped the dirt for two full seasons to concentrate on his grass-court form, winning Wimbledon in 2017. He claimed the Madrid title in 2006, 2009, and 2012.

"I've been missing the clay, this is a great return, it's a special night for me," he said.

"I would have always felt regrets not being on the clay in 2019 because my knee problem is far enough away now. I grew up on this surface, so I feel comfortable on it.

"It feels good to be back on the clay now and I enjoy it. Some of these rallies where you get pushed to the side, you slide, you hit the ball, you slide, you hit the ball, you come back into it, then you can defend in a different manner than you do on the hard courts, or on the grass."

Last year's runner-up Thiem reached the Round of 16 without having to finish his match with American Reilly Opelka, who withdrew due to injury one game into the decider.

Thiem lost the first set 7-6 (7/2) before winning the second 6-3 and was leading 1-0 when 21-year-old Opelka retired.

In first-round matches, Monte Carlo Masters champion Fabio Fognini comfortably beat Britain's Kyle Edmund 6-4, 6-3 to reach the last 32, while Stan Wawrinka had a straight-set win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Home favourite David Ferrer, who is playing the last tournament of his career, delayed his retirement by beating fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 and will play German hotshot Alexander Zverev in the Round of 32.

Meanwhile, in the women's event, world No. 1 Naomi Osaka reached the quarter-finals after a 6-2, 6-3 win over Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich last night.

Earlier, in the Round of 32, Osaka withstood a firm test from unseeded Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo.

The Japanese was taken to a tie-break in the first set by world No. 73 Sorribes Tormo, and then lost the second before overpowering her opponent for a 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-0 victory.

KERBER OUT

World No. 4 Angelique Kerber has been forced to withdraw from the Madrid Open, after the fourth seed injured her ankle in practice ahead of her match against Petra Martic.

The German had been one of the favourites to battle Osaka for the title in the Spanish capital this week and had a chance to overhaul the Japanese at the top of the rankings.

The ankle injury is another setback for 2018 Wimbledon champion Kerber, who missed two weeks of the clay-court season after picking up a virus in Monterrey last month.

She had set her sights on returning in time for next week's Italian Open.

"I think it's the worst (claycourt season) I ever had. I was really looking forward to this year," Kerber said.

"Hopefully I can be ready for the next big ones. I hope there are big chances to play in Rome."

Meanwhile, France's Caroline Garcia set up a meeting with last year's champion Petra Kvitova, after beating Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. - REUTERS, AFP

Tennis