Read & Watch: Roger Ready For Return
It's that time of year once again. The ATP World Tour's best are ready to grace the grass of Stuttgart and 's-Hertogenbosch, as the lawn tennis season begins.
And that means a familiar face is poised to make his long-awaited return. World No. 2 Roger Federer is back, competing in his first tournament since the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami in March.
For the second straight year, the Swiss will kick off his campaign on his preferred surface at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart. Plenty is at stake, with a final appearance moving Federer back to the top of the ATP Rankings. But despite his reign of dominance on grass, posting an Open Era best 164-24 record (.872) in the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, he acknowledges the challenges that the ATP World Tour 250 event poses.
"It’s not always that easy, especially on grass," Federer said ahead of the tournament. "The rallies are short, a few points decide them. It was like that two years ago against Dominic Thiem and last year I lost against Tommy Haas after having a match point.
"When it’s wet it gets slippery pretty quick and you are afraid to slip. Once you play timidly all the good practice was for naught and your good game is gone. In the last two years I lost against good players, so it also always depends on your opponent. Today I had fun. The grass doesn’t only look good, but is really perfect."
Federer opens against either qualifier Mikhail Youzhny or Germany's Mischa Zverev. He owns a perfect 17-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head mark against Youzhny and an undefeated 5-0 record over Zverev. Surging #NextGenATP star Denis Shapovalov is seeded sixth and looms in the quarter-finals, with fourth seed Nick Kyrgios a potential semi-final opponent.
The World No. 2 is making his third straight tournament appearance, having reached the semi-finals in 2016 (l. to Thiem) and suffered a first-round exit in 2017 (l. to Haas). He is looking to go all the way this year.
"I’m back again and I’ll give my best to go deeper this year," Federer added. "We will see how it goes in the first match. It’ll be my first match in three months, so I’m missing some match practice. I think the grass is better than in the past years. Let’s hope for some better weather."
So, how did Federer occupy his time during his three-month break? With four children, the Swiss valued his time spent with family and in Africa with the Roger Federer Foundation.
"We had some great vacations together as a family and then also alone," Federer reflected. "I was traveling for my foundation in Zambia and had a great time there. I hope we can make things happen and provide a better education for the kids there. I practised a lot the rest of the time and also put in some work in the gym.
"Sometimes I wish I’d had more time but the three months went past in a blur. Now I’m eager to get going again. The last few weeks were a bit boring. I want to play matches again, not only to practise. I’m very much looking forward to my first match."
Federer opens his Stuttgart campaign on Wednesday.