PARIS (Reuters) – With so few matches in the tank over the past 17 months, Roger Federer knew the first big test of where his game was at would likely come against Marin Cilic on Thursday.
The 39-year-old Swiss had made his first-round win over Denis Istomin look like an exhibition match as he enjoyed a comortable return to the Grand Slam area for the first time since losing in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2020.
Former U.S. Open champion Cilic, however, was a different proposition in the second round.
The big-hitting Croatian levelled the match at one set apiece and then came from a break down to push Federer into a third-set tiebreak – the outcome of which always looked like being pivotal to the contest.
Federer’s response scotched any fears that he might be vulnerable in the heat of battle.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion smoothly pressed the accelerator to take the tiebreak and outclassed Cilic in the fourth set to claim a 6-2 2-6 7-6(4) 6-2 win.
“A very good match for me, I thought,” 2009 champion Federer who is making only his second appearance at the French Open since 2015, told reporters.
“The good thing, I feel like I come out of a match like this and I know why it was up and down. And then that I was able to attain a solid level once he did break back in the third set and things were looking dangerous for me, that I was able to step up a gear, stay with him, and then pull away.
“I was able to almost find another gear, which he couldn’t, and I think that was very nice for me. So I’m very happy.”
Federer, who underwent knee surgery last year, has earmarked Wimbledon as his main target.
But with Germany’s 59th-ranked Dominik Koepfer up next he looks in the mood to make a run into the second week here – although with 13-time French Open winner Rafa Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic in his half, even his most optimistic fans will be amazed if Federer won the title.
“I hope I can back it up with hopefully another good match,” Federer said when asked about his physical condition. “Whatever the outcome is, I know it was definitely the right choice to come here to Paris.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Andrew Heavens)