With a performance as emphatic as it was rapid, Roger Federer signalled his readiness for the Australian Open by thrashing Richard Gasquet in Perth last night.
The Swiss star was dominant throughout against a rival good enough to reach three grand slam semi-finals in winning 6-1 6-4 in less than an hour.
It was an important victory for Federer, for it gave Switzerland the early lead in a tie that will decide which nation faces the US in tonight’s Hopman Cup final.
After solid performances against Dan Evans and Alexander Zverev earlier in the week, the returning champion took another step towards regaining his best form.
“Today was great. I had many more swings on the ball against Zverev,” he said.
“It’s the third match into the year, so I am starting to feel the ball better and better and I am just moving around the court better, so I am really pleased.”
Federer clubbed the ball from the baseline, moved extremely well both sideways and when working into the court to take the ball as early as possible.
His serve, too, was particularly damaging, with Gasquet unable to set up a break-point opportunity in any of Federer’s eight service games. Importantly, the 17-time grand slam champion showed the arduous three-set test against Zverev a couple of nights earlier did not sap him of energy or foot speed. This is an encouraging sign for the 35-year-old given the challenge ahead in his return to major tennis in Melbourne.
By virtue of his time on the sidelines, Federer’s ranking has slipped and he will not be afforded as much protection from other elite players as he became used to during a reign that began with his first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2003. But he said he could not be happier with how his preparation had gone after missing significant parts of last year with a knee problem.
“It was completely different to the previous two (matches) because every opponent makes your life difficult in a different way,” he said. “I am surprised how well I am playing. I couldn’t be more happy right now.”
Federer set the tone early against Gasquet with his aggression, with the Frenchman saying his rival revelled in the fast conditions. After his comeback to tennis against Dan Evans, the 16th-ranked Federer noted the courts suited “first-strike” tennis.
As soon as a half-chance opened, it was important to seize it. He feels the same will apply in the Australian Open. The Frenchman enjoyed strong form leading into last night’s singles, having toppled both Zverev and Evans, but was under pressure throughout against the Swiss superstar.
An early break seized, Federer ensured the first set would be his by clinching another when crunching a backhand return winner that sizzled down the sideline.
He clinched the first set in 26 minutes. And started the second set just as swiftly, claiming the initial break at 1-all.
Gasquet, who had claimed two of their 17 outings including the first match their first-ever match, has no doubt Federer has recaptured his best form. The key, he said, would be whether he could sustain it in the best-of-five-set matches at the Australian Open.
“In (five sets), it may be a different thing, but for me today, he was just too good,” Gasquet said.
It is so good to watch this man play again, winning the Australian Open will be a real long shot this year, but I'm gonna enjoy the ride either way. Welcome back Roger!.