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Federer Makes Emphatic Start; Raonic, Fognini Advance

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Roger Federer made a welcome return to the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Wednesday and opened his campaign in emphatic style, dismissing Radek Stepanek 6-1, 6-2 to reach the third round.

The Swiss took a wild card to make his first appearance since 2011 at this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournament. He notched his 24th win at the Monte-Carlo Country Club as he hit 14 winners to nine unforced errors and converted all four of his break points. Federer moved to a 14-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Stepanek.

"I'm a bit surprised how well it went," said Federer. "Then again, it's hard to serve through the opponent. I was able to get a lot of returns back into play. On clay, when you have the upper hand from the baseline, it's kind of hard to get out of it. 

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"I think that's kind of how it was for Radek today. I had a good start to both sets, then I was solid on my own service games. The next thing you know, you're in the lead and you can hit freely. It was clearly a good match to start my clay-court campaign."

The 32-year-old Federer, who was part of the ATP’s 25-year celebrations in Monte-Carlo on Tuesday evening, is a three-time runner-up at this tournament. The Basel native, who lost out to Rafael Nadal in the 2006-08 finals, is chasing his 22nd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown and first since 2012 Cincinnati (d. Djokovic).

"I'm very happy now that I'm doing well," said Federer, reflecting on his strong start to the season. "But, of course, I also expect this from myself. So I'm just trying to keep up that rhythm. I feel free physically and in my mind. I'm eager to play, I'm eager to practise. I want to play good points. I'm no longer afraid that the rally will last too long. This was getting in the way of my game last year, whereas now I can really enjoy myself."

Eighth seed Milos Raonic finished strongly to defeat Yen-Hsun Lu 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1. The Canadian fired 19 aces and converted five of his 19 break points to prevail in just under two hours.

“I did a lot of things well,” said Raonic. “I was a little bit disappointed with the discipline in myself towards the end of that first set. But other than that I played a clean match. On a lot of his service games, I was creating opportunities for myself.

“I want to do better on clay than I did last year,” continued the 23 year old, whose best showing during this spell last year was a semi-final in Barcelona (l. to Nadal). “I've worked on movement and approach, maybe just changing 10 per cent, not too much. I'm trying to be aggressive, go with the forehand and dictate on the court. I just need to pick my shots, here and there.”

Raonic reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final last year on home soil in Montreal (l. to Nadal) and subsequently broke into the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.

Italy’s Fabio Fognini set a third-round clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after defeating Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 7-6(6), 6-4 in one hour and 44 minutes. The 10th seed exchanged 11 breaks of serve with Bautista Agut before claiming his 22nd win of the season. He is a two-time finalist on the ATP World Tour this season, winning his third title in Vina del Mar (d. L. Mayer).

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