Roger Federer Returns to Clay, Which Greets Him Like an Old Friend

Roger Federer Returns to Clay, Which Greets Him Like an Old Friend

That seemed a stretch in view of the forces assembled against Federer. In the next round, Federer will face the winner of Wednesday’s match between Martin Fucsovics and Gael Monfils, another veteran Frenchman who has been in much more dangerous form this season and has been talking openly about his desire to make a run at the French Open title in a few weeks.

If Federer wins that duel, he could face Fabio Fognini or Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals. Both defeated Nadal in straight sets on clay last month, Fognini on the way to the title in Monte Carlo, and Thiem on the way to the one in Barcelona.

What is clear is that Federer is moving, serving and striking the ball with authority after several weeks of training on clay at home in Switzerland.

He faced no break points against Gasquet, defended particularly well off the slide in his forehand corner and mixed tactics with success — serving and volleying on occasion and pouncing quickly on any less-than-convincing return.

But then Madrid, at an altitude of 2,300 feet, is a place where the ball meets less resistance as it travels through the air and where attacking tennis can prove very effective. Since the tournament shifted to clay 10 years ago, Federer has won it twice, in 2009 and 2012.

“It feels good to be back on the clay now, and I enjoy it, to be honest,” he said. “Some of these rallies where you get pushed to the side, you slide, you hit the ball, you slide, you hit the ball, you come back into it, then you can defend in a different manner than you do on the hardcourts or on the grass.”

He last appeared in Madrid in 2015, losing his opening match to Nick Kyrgios. His most recent clay-court match came on May 12, 2016, when he lost to Thiem in straight sets in the third round of the Italian Open.

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