They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and that certainly seems to be the case when it comes to Federer and Dubai.
The Swiss was given a hero’s welcome at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night after missing the event with a knee injury last year.
Hours before the match started, fans dressed in RF-attire and Swiss flags swarmed the Aviation Club in preparation for Federer’s first appearance since his historic Australian Open triumph in Melbourne last month.
The 35-year-old received a standing ovation as he walked on the court and the stadium witnessed a sell-out crowd for the first time this fortnight.
The only disappointment for the Federer fanatics was that his first round victory over an injured Benoit Paire lasted only 54 minutes.
The seven-time Dubai champion eased past the temperamental Paire 6-1, 6-3 to set up a second round with either former runner-up Mikhail Youzhny or Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy.
“It's nice as you're warming up you hear the crowd already somewhat as they're getting pumped up by someone. You hear music and hear the roars. Then when you walk out, I don't know, it's a nice feeling to have. You know, it's mutual, because I missed playing here last year,” said Federer, who took part in a ceremony after his win to celebrate the tournament’s 25th
“I have played here for so many years, seen the tournament grow. And especially after Australia, fans and myself know how special it is for me to be back on the court. It was a nice welcome. Very thankful always.”
Federer entered the match with a 3-0 record against the French shot-maker and an 11-1 win-loss record in Dubai first rounds.
Paire’s wild and unorthodox style was on display from his very first service game as he sent Federer to all four corners of the court with slices and drop shots before he inexplicably volleyed wide. He held serve though for 1-all.
Federer snuck up on Paire at the net multiple times in game four and the Swiss got triple break point on a netted backhand from the Frenchman. He broke on his first opportunity for a 3-1 lead.
Back-to-back errors from Federer gave Paire the chance to break back. But some erratic play from the world No39 saw him lose both, which resulted in a frustrated racquet smash – the first of many during the match.
Federer saved a third break point to hold for 4-1. During the changeover Paire received a medical timeout for what a right ankle injury he had picked up during the Rotterdam Open two weeks ago.
Federer started waving to his fans while waiting for Paire to finish his treatment, sending the crowd into hysteria.
The world No10 broke again for a 5-1 lead and took the set on 27 minutes with a service winner after a serious of exceptional serve-and-volley points.
Paire double-faulted to fall behind 0-40 in the fifth game of the second and netted a routine forehand to get broken. The 27-year-old didn’t even sit down during the changeover, looking disinterested as he waited at the baseline.
He had a half chance at 30-30 in the next game, but smashed his racquet once again after squandering the opportunity.
Federer during his first round (Photo via DDF Tennis)
Federer held for 4-2 and Paire went on another racquet-smashing spree. He hurled his racquet against a banner, it flew back but thankfully didn’t hit anyone. Paire received a code violation then threw his racquet again as he walked to his bench. He lost the contest soon after.
“I couldn’t play. I had an injury after the (Marin) Cilic match in Rotterdam and the same pain arrived in the first game, I felt it and after I couldn’t move. The match was not how I wanted it to be, but that’s how it is, that’s tennis,” a dejected Paire told Sport360
after the match.
Asked about his potentially dangerous racquet throw in the second set, Paire said: “I was pissed because I couldn’t play, that’s the reason and I broke my racquet. I do what I want on the court, that’s it.”
Erratic on-court behaviour from players has been a point of discussion as of late, especially after Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov accidentally injured umpire Arnaud Gabas when he angrily hit the ball directly at the Frenchman’s face leaving him with a bloody eye. Gabas later required surgery on his eye.
Federer was asked about Paire’s flying racquet on Monday and whether there should be harsher punishments for such antics. The 18-time grand slam champion said: “It was funny, actually. He got lucky.
“No, I think it's fine. Players know what the consequences are. I don't know how it can be harsher than to be disqualified, getting a zero point or no prize money. I don't know how - what, get thrown in jail? I don't know,” he added jokingly. “I mean, that's the next step, I guess.
“So the players know what the drill is, what the rules are. He knew that if he smashed one more racquet it would be a point penalty and then it goes into game quickly, and things get really serious and expensive and all that.
“I don't think the ATP has to revisit that part of the thing, but sure, you have to be careful. When you whack a ball out of the stadiums, you want to be 100 per cent sure you clear everything in the path, even birds and stuff. If you throw the racquet, you want to know how it bounces. And if it's the unknown, you shouldn't do it.”
Federer has an off day on Tuesday before playing his second round on Wednesday.
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