Federer wins on Paris return, eyes Wimbledon’s ‘light at end of tunnel’

The 39-year-old Federer, the champion in Paris in 2009 but playing the event for only the second time since 2015, won 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 over 204th-ranked Istomin.

FILE: Switzerland’s Roger Federer. Picture: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

PARIS, France – Roger Federer marked his return to the French Open with a straight sets defeat of Uzbekistan qualifier Denis Istomin on Monday with “the measuring stick” remaining a delayed assault on a ninth Wimbledon title.

The 39-year-old Federer, the champion in Paris in 2009 but playing the event for only the second time since 2015, won 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 over 204th-ranked Istomin.

It was his eighth win in eight meetings with the Uzbek and gave him a second round clash against Marin Cilic, another familiar foe he has met 10 times.

Federer, who skipped the 2020 French Open, was playing just his fourth match of 2021 and first at a Slam since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-finals last year, 487 days ago.

The need to recover from two knee surgeries plus the suspension of the tour due to the pandemic — which also saw Wimbledon cancelled — kept Federer sidelined until Qatar in March this year where he won one match.

He then stayed off tour until Geneva earlier this month where he lost first up to Pablo Andujar.

“The light at the end of the tunnel or the measuring stick was always can I come back to a good level against good players. I hope Wimbledon is going to be that place.

“Maybe there’s going to be even something here in Paris. We’ll see,” said Federer who made the semi-finals on his last appearance in Paris in 2019.

He certainly looked the part on Monday, blasting 48 winners past Istomin without facing a single break point.

“I’ll just be happy that I get another opportunity to play (at Wimbledon). So I hope I can stay healthy from now on forward.

“I’m quite confident that’s going to stay that way. I’ve also been getting better every month that went by, which has been really positive. I didn’t have any setbacks in a year.”

However, he admitted there was still a degree of frustration: “It’s been really slow progress. I can’t deny the fact.”

Federer, who is currently locked on 20 Grand Slam titles with Rafael Nadal, repeated that he still plans to play the Olympics in Tokyo but is “waiting to see how things are going to develop the next couple of weeks and month”.

“I feel two ways. I would love to play. I wish things were better around the world that we wouldn’t even have to debate the thought of is it going to happen, am I going to play or not.

“My wish and hope and dream is that I can play it. But it needs to make sense for me, my team, my family, my country.”

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