Fed-mania sweeps Paris as fans swoon over Roger's French Open return

Retour Sur Terre (Back To Earth) was the headline on the Roland Garros program. It saluted Roger Federer's first appearance on the French Open's crushed brick, known to the locals as terre battue, since he lost to Stan Wawrinka here in the 2015 quarter-final.

To watch Federer, though, was to acknowledge that his extra-terrestrial gifts remain intact. He seemed to float above the court as he eliminated Lorenzo Sonego in only 101 minutes: 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Federer does not see himself as a leading contender for this title, he said afterwards. But we can be confident that no one is looking forward to facing him.



"It's nice to be an outsider," Federer said.


"It relaxes you on the bigger points maybe, or it relaxes you subconsciously as you walk through the grounds and go to practice and go to the press room.

"This is not a show I'm putting on," Federer added. "This is the truth. I really don't know how far I can go in this event, and I am very happy with my first round. It was a really good performance, I thought, from my side for not having played here for as long as I did."

Four years is a long time in tennis – especially at a venue where several stadiums have been either demolished or renovated since Federer's last visit.

But there was no sense of a settling-in period; quite the reverse, in fact, as he broke serve twice in the first 12 minutes to rush in to a 3-0 lead.

Sonego is an earnest Italian with a hint of a young Rafael Nadal about him. He has a bandanna to hold back his floppy black hair, a chesty grunt and a lasso forehand. Only the right-handedness and the skinny build spoiled the comparison – along with the one-sidedness of the scoreline.

Despite competing hard in sets two and three, Sonego was left bemused by Federer's variety of spins and angles. He also had to put up with the indignity of a winning drop shot played against his serve.

Just entering and exiting the new-look Court Philippe Chatrier must have felt like a tonic for Federer, who received celebratory chants and a standing ovation both times.

He arrived clad entirely in white, as if he had taken a wrong turn on the way to Wimbledon, before disrobing to reveal the Uniqlo kit that has been compared to a parcel delivery uniform. It takes a special clotheshorse to make beige look bold, but he just about pulled it off.

"I feel that the public missed me, and I missed them, as well," said Federer after the match.

"After not playing here for many years, there was some buzz, which I could feel on the central court when I was training and when I was playing today.

"So it was rather cool, rather pleasant, and I really loved the welcome I got on the court. I hope that it continues like this."

"Roger, Roger" chants echoed around the packed 15,000-seater Philippe Chatrier centre court even before the first serve had been made.


As he dominated the opening two sets, a fan shouted from high in the stands, “Pas trop vite, Roger” (“Not too fast, Roger”), the crowd laughing in unison.

Federer could only leave after dozens of selfies and autographs as little children and grown-ups alike screamed "Roger, please" to get his attention.

"The reception I got today was crazy. It was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this. It was a beauty. So I'm very, very happy," Federer said, who was escorted by several bodyguards amid dozens of ecstatic fans to his post-match press conference.

Federer's reappearance helped lift the French Open's Sunday start, which is often a rather drab affair. Most of the leading players want to squeeze out extra training before entering the fray over the first two days of this week.

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If Federer proved to be the exception, one suspects that he has hatched a cunning plan. Given the extra physicality of clay-court tennis, recovery may prove to be a bigger challenge for him this fortnight than outright performance.

And as he mentioned, his early arrival meant that he wouldn't have to play again for 2½ days.

Telegraph, London; MCT