Roger Federer shook off a brief bout of pre-match jitters as he returned to clay after a three-year absence, posting a 6-2, 6-3 win over Richard Gasquet on Tuesday at the Madrid Open.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion needed just 52 minutes to brush Gasquet aside in the second round, but confessed he had to control his emotions during afternoon match strategy sessions with his team.
“I was very calm all day, but two hours before, I was feeling it a bit. But that was the only time,” Federer said.
“The nerves went away quickly, I’m just happy I started well.
“I’m glad to be back,” said the three-time Madrid champion who last played on clay almost three years ago, losing to Dominic Thiem in the Rome third round on May 12, 2016.
Federer skipped the dirt for two full seasons to concentrate on his grass court form, winning Wimbledon in 2017.
He claimed the Madrid title in 2006, 2009, and 2012.
“I’ve been missing the clay, this is a great return, it’s a special night for me,” he said.
Federer swept up the opening set in 23 minutes and broke Frenchman Gasquet — who had defeated him twice on clay — for 5-3 in the second before serving it out a game later.
Federer has won 18 of 21 meetings with Gasquet, just back from six months out with injury.
“I’ve trained well, but that’s not like a match. The points here are quicker and first matches anywhere can be tricky,” said Federer.
“But I felt really natural on the clay tonight.”