Roger Federer showed signs of rustiness in his first match for a month, but revealed his back problems are behind him ahead of the grass court season.
The 17-time major champion was taken to three sets by rising star Taylor Fritz in the second round of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, after the match had been held over from yesterday due persistent rain in the German city.
At 18-years of age, the American is already ranked as high as 65 in the world, and he showed what a strong force he could become in the men’s game despite 4-6 7-5 4-6 defeat to the top seed.
Federer missed his first Grand Slam for over 16 years when he pulled out of the French Open with a back injury a fortnight ago.
It was narrative which was once unthinkable for a man who had competed in 65 majors in a row - though it is clear that preparations for Wimbledon in three weeks’ time are now his main concern.
Federer is also due to play in his traditional warm-up tournament in Halle next week, though things nearly went pear-shaped against an inspired opponent here.
Federer seals opener after the match resumes
Federer had just broken serve to lead 4-3 when the players were taken off court yesterday, and it proved decisive as the Swiss closed out the set after today’s resumption.
At 6 ft 4, Fritz has become renowned for his giant serve which is at its most effective on grass; even so the American mustered up a break back point with some sharp returns when Federer was serving for the set at 5-4.
Nevertheless, in traditional Federer fashion, the Swiss calmly fended off the danger as he opened up a set lead.
Fritz turns the tables to force a decider
Both continued to dominate on serve as the games flew by, though Federer was forced to recover from 15-40 in the fourth game of the second set.
It was apparent that 17-time major champion wasn’t completely match sharp, and he misfired a number of forehands which he would usually devour.
Even so, on the other side of the net Fritz continued to impress the many spectators who had filled the arena with the anticipation of seeing Federer.
At 5-6 the Swiss brought the score back to deuce from 0-40 to save three set point, however Fritz went on to win the next two points - and the set - with an acute forehand and a missed backhand from Federer.
Federer edges tight contest
After not facing a break point in the second set, Fritz sustained his fabulous serving level and appeared ready to pounce when leading 2-3 (30-40) in the decider on Federer’s serve.
A big second serve landed right in the corner from the Swiss and at 4-4 he made his move, as Fritz conceded his serve for only the second time in the match.
Federer went on to serve out the match with ease but had to admit he was a ‘little lucky’ on his return. He will play German Florian Mayer in the quarter-finals.