MADRID, May 7, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Three-time Madrid champion Roger Federer, seeded fourth in this year’s ATP Masters 1000 Mutua Madrid Open, played his first match on clay in 1,090 days – since Rome in May 2016 – as he faced Richard Gasquet Tuesday night. It was a welcoming return that Federer won 6-2, 6-3, and it lasted a mere 52 minutes. There was much anticipation in the air, among not only the spectators who packed Court Manolo Santana at Caja Mágica, but also among the media and fans tuning in to watch on TV worldwide.
Federer’s first win on clay in nearly three years win capped a busy day in which Novak Djokovic, celebrating the 250th week of his storied career as the No. 1 ranked player in the world, won his opening match over Taylor Fritz, and David Ferrer of Spain played the final first-round match of his remarkable 19-year professional career in front of his home country fans.
Ferrer, 37, who came into Madrid 5-0 in first round matches this year, faced Roberto Bautista Agut, a fellow Valencia native, who idolized the tour veteran growing up. The two teamed together for Spain in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Always an overachiever every time he takes the court, Ferrer peaked at No. 3 in the ATP Rankings and between 2010 and 2016, he spent 292 consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 10. The build up for the Spaniard playing in his last tournament before he retires has been tremendous.
When the 144th-ranked wild card walked out on Court Manolo Santana at the appointed 4 o’clock hour, wearing his familiar red bandana-style headband, Ferrer received a hero’s welcome. Over the next two hours and 36 minutes, he didn’t disappoint while going about his work on the show court – often smiling – with a look of confidence on his face. There was plenty of drama and fight, punctuated each time Ferrer broke Bautista Agut’s serve – especially the three times he broke in the final set.
During the fifth-game change over in the third set, there was some cause for concern as Ferrer received medical attention to ease his aches and pains. In the end, each player accumulated 101 points, but Ferrer won the emotional first-round clash 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. It finished on his third match-point attempt when Bautista Agut capped a 12-shot back-and-forth rally by hitting a forehand return long. Ferrer showed he’s still got game and his farewell tour continues for at least another day. Next, Ferrer will be back on Court Manolo Santana Wednesday night (not before 9:30 p.m.) against defending champion and No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 7. Mai 2019
“It was very special because it’s going to be my last week. It’s a very great victory with a close friend like Roberto,” said Ferrer after his victory against the 31-year-old Bautista Agut. “I know it’s not easy for him playing this type of match because we are close friends. I’m sorry for him but I want to be professional as possible until the end of my career, and I’m trying to do that.”
Meanwhile, although clay has not been Federer’s surface of choice in recent years – choosing instead to preserve both his health and to focus playing on grass at Wimbledon – the Swiss maestro has managed to produce impressive results on clay. Federer’s .759-win percentage on clay is third-best among active players behind Nadal (.917) and Novak Djokovic (.791), and his 16 ATP Masters 1000 finals on clay are second only to Nadal’s 31.
Federer’s easy win over Gasquet was his 18th in 20 career meetings against the Frenchman as well as his 215th victory on clay and the 1,199th triumph of his career. His safe passage into the third round means he will face either another French, No. 15 seed Gaël Monfils, or Marton Fucsovics on Thursday. The No. 36 Hungarian beat No. 23 David Goffin of Belgium, 6-4, 7-5.
Roger Federer makes a winning return to clay 👏
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 7. Mai 2019
Although Federer announced his decision to return to clay back in January at the Australian Open, he’s been living in the moment. “I’m happy also that the decision I took last, I guess around December, when I started feeling like I definitely want to do the clay, that it was the right decision,” Federer said Monday, during his pre-tournament press conference as quoted by the ATP website. “I haven’t looked back at the clay-court build-up yet, or everything that I have been doing, like maybe I shouldn’t have. I’m happy I’m here and I’m happy I’m on the surface.”
Like Federer, Djokovic also met with tournament media on Monday. A winner of 13 previous clay-court tournaments, he said, “I haven’t been maybe playing my best in the last couple of months. But I’m slowly building and hopefully I can manifest my best tennis here.”
Although Djokovic has reached just one quarterfinal since winning the Australian Open in January, the Serbian’s 6-4, 6-2 second-round win over No. 57 Fritz from the United States, coming in just 65 minutes, improved his 2019 win-loss record to 16-4 and he’s now 25-8 lifetime in Madrid. It set up a third round match for Djokovic against either Diego Schwartzman of Argentina or Jeremy Chardy of France on Thursday. Schwartzman advanced to the second round by defeating No. 16 seed Marco Cecchinato of Italy, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1, while No. 47 Chardy bested 85th-ranked Spanish qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
Around Caja Mágica
• No. 9 seed Marin Cilic advanced to the third round and for the second straight day needed to go the distance to win. He beat No. 49 Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours. After a day off, next for the Croatian is either No. 7 seed Juan Martín del Potro from Argentina or Laslo Djere of Serbia, who play Wednesday afternoon.
• No. 10 Fabio Fognini of Italy, who opened the European clay season by lifting the trophy at Monte-Carlo three weeks ago, beat No. 22 Kyle Edmunds of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-3. Fognini advanced against No. 48 John Millman of Australia, who outlasted No. 59 Steve Johnson of the United States, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). The Fognini/Millman winner will face No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria, who won when 58th-ranked American qualifier Reilly Opelka retired in the third set with an injury. Opelka won the first set 7-6 (2), then Thiem rallied in the second set 6-3. He was ahead 1-0 in the third set when Opelka was unable to continue due to back pain.
• No. 34 Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland defeated qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France, 6-2, 6-3, and will next play No. 26 Guido Pella. The Argentine upset No. 12 Daniil Medvedev, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, for his second win over the Russian this season.
• No. 52 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland upset No. 27 Alex de Minaur of Australia, 6-3, 6-4, and next will face France’s Lucas Pouille, ranked 28th, who upset No. 13 seed Borna Coric of Croatia, 6-3, 7-5. Fresh off winning an ATP Challenger over the weekend in Bordeaux, it was Pouille’s first tour-level win since the Australian Open.
• Lucky loser Adrian Mannarino of France, ranked 56th, advanced over No. 75 Joao Sousa of Portugal, 7-5, 5-7, 6-1, and next will oppose No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who lifted the trophy at the Millennium Estoril Open on Sunday.
• Qualifier Hugo Dellien of Bolivia, ranked No. 109, defeated No. 29 Gilles Simon of France, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4), to advance against No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan.
What they’re saying
• No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, who is going after his sixth Madrid trophy, met with tournament media on Tuesday afternoon in advance of his second-round match against 18-year-old Canadian wild card Felix Auger-Aliassime, which will be played on Court Manolo Santana Wednesday afternoon (not before 4 p.m.). He said of the #NextGenATP star: “He is a complicated opponent. He’s young. He’s played a couple of matches on clay this year already so he’s going to be a difficult opponent. For him here, everything is more even due to the altitude, the conditions.”
Also, Nadal said he hopes for more diversity on the ATP Board, with a position open following last week’s resignation by Justin Gimelstob. According to a tweet from New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey, Nadal said “he would like to see someone fluent in Spanish in the post in an effort to improve communication with Spanish and Latin American players.”
• David Ferrer, speaking on his forthcoming retirement from tennis, said: “I feel happy with my transition into accepting that I’m going to stop playing and that this was going to be my last year. There is always a little bit of fear at the last tournaments. You think about how you’re going to feel. But my goal is to be happy. I feel competitive, I’m playing the tournaments that have given me the most affection and that I am most excited about. Thanks to the career I’ve had, I can look back and feel proud of everything I’ve achieved.”
• Stan Wawrinka, former World No. 3, who broke a three-match Madrid losing streak by beating qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert, said after his win: “I felt good, it was a great match. I have been playing good on the practice court, feeling really good, so it was important to start well today and I’m happy with the first match.
“I hope it is going to click soon. I’m patient enough to know that sometimes it takes time. I do believe that I’m playing well, I’m feeling well on the court and I still have some big result inside me. So hopefully it can come sooner than later, but I’m ready to keep working the right way to get back in a better place and to win more matches.”
First round singles
Jeremy Chardy d. Q-Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5
Diego Schwartzman d. No. 16 Marco Cecchinato, 6-9, 4-6, 6-1
Marton Fucsovics d. David Goffin, 6-4, 7-5
No. 10 Fabio Fognini d. Kyle Edmund, 6-4, 6-3
John Millman d. Steve Johnson, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5)
LL-Adrian Mannarino d. Joao Sousa, 7-5, 5-7, 6-1
Lucas Pouille d. No. 13 Borna Coric, 6-3, 7-5
Q-Hubert Hurkacz d. Alex de Minaur, 6-3, 6-4
WC-David Ferrer d. Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
Q-Hugo Dellien d. Gilles Simon, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4)
Stan Wawrinka d. Q-Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 6-2, 6-3
Guido Pella d. No. 12 Daniil Medvedev, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3
Second round singles
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. Q-Taylor Fritz, 6-4, 6-2
No. 9 Marin Cilic d. Jan-Lennard Struff, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
No. 4 Roger Federer d. Richard Gasquet, 6-2, 6-3
No. 5 Dominic Thiem d. Q-Reilly Opelka, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 1-0 (retired)