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Swiss had fallen to Haas during his Stuttgart opener last year
Roger Federer showed some rust but the Swiss legend ultimately settled enough into his first match in nearly three months to advance on Wednesday at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart.
The No. 2 player in the ATP Rankings came back to beat home favourite Mischa Zverev 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in front of, as customary, a pro-Federer crowd.
“Three months is a long time, it's longer than the year-end break. So I'm very happy returning on good terms onto the Tour,” Federer said. “It was difficult, missed some chances maybe in the first set... He connected well at the right times.
“And then I found a way, I found my rhythm... I'm very happy with how I played. I'm super happy to be back on Tour. It's been a great start.”
Federer can reclaim the No. 1 ATP Ranking from long-time rival Rafael Nadal with a run to the championship match in Stuttgart. The 36-year-old lost to Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis on 24 March during his opening match at the Miami Open presented by Itau before skipping the entire European clay-court swing for the second year in a row.
But the Swiss has long favoured the grass. Seventeen – nine at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle and eight at Wimbledon – of Federer's 97 tour-level titles have come on the surface, and he's won 87 per cent (165/189) of his grass-court matches.
Zverev, though, covered the net well and landed enough first serves to take advantage of a slow start from the Swiss. Federer had four break chances during Zverev's first three service games, but the German erased them all and then broke Federer to love in the eighth game. The German had never won a set against Federer in their five prior FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, including three on grass, but he clinched the opener with a drop volley.
"It was difficult from the start... We both knew, going into the match, a passing shot here or there, or maybe a half volley, a return or a pick-up or something was going to make the difference," said Federer. "I think maybe I just created a few more opportunities than he did. I was able to play better as the match went on and that is something I can really build on."
Federer cranked it up a level in the second set, twice breaking Zverev to force the decider. Federer began to pick apart the lefty's serve-and-volley tactics even more in the third set, breaking again the fourth and eighth games.
“It feels good to win again. I've lost my last two matches,” said Federer, who lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the Indian Wells final before playing in Miami. “It's nice to get a fresh start here.”
The top seed had fallen to Tommy Haas in his Stuttgart opener last year. Federer will next meet Argentine Guido Pella or Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran.
A little rusty, nothing more match play can't fix. And he didn't lose in the first round this time. Progress.