DUBAI: Roger Federer crushed a familiar opponent for the 16th successive time as he made an encouraging return to the ATP World Tour after his Australian Open debacle.
The Grand Slam record-holder’s lively 6-3, 6-1 win over Mikhail Youzhny, a regular sparring partner, in the first round of the Dubai Open helped him begin to rebuild after a dispiriting third round loss in Melbourne.
The Swiss legend did this consistently well, serving forcefully, striking the ball with surprisingly good rhythm in a stiff breeze, and shortening the rallies by coming to the net successfully on plenty of occasions.
“He’s (Youzhny) beaten me a lot in practice,” Federer said when asked how he managed to be so ruthless against someone he had been playing since the turn of the century and to whom he had never lost.
“For some reason he has not done so in a match. You can’t feel sorry. You have to make your best effort.”
Youzhny, who has twice reached the final here, is still a fluent ground-stroker but only remained a contender in this match for the first seven games against a Federer intent on not playing too carefully in tricky conditions – a mistake he believes he made in Australia.
Youzhny then saved three break points before being pressured into driving too long on the fourth.
After that Federer consolidated the break with a sharp service game before breaking again to close the first set. The second was so quick the match was over inside one hour.
“In the best of three (sets) on a quick court, the score can run away from you. A bad five to ten minutes can cost you the match,” Federer said.
“So I’m pleased with the way I started.”
Later Federer learned he will not have a chance of avenging last month’s Australian Open loss to Andreas Seppi in the third round here.
The Italian saved two second set match points and led 4-2 in the final set, but was still beaten by talented but inconsistent Frenchman Richard Gasquet, 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 6-4.
Gasquet, who won the Montpellier title on indoor courts two weeks ago, survived on the faster outdoor courts here partly because he regained control of his emotions after a second set disappointment that caused him to lash the ball furiously into the crowd.
“I had those two match points and then he played better than me,” said Gasquet.
“He had confidence from beating Federer in Australia. But now I feel ready to compete.”
If Gasquet wins again, against either Roberto Bautista Agut, the seventh seeded Spaniard, or Dominic Thiem of Austria, he may play Federer.
The six times former champion will play one of two Spaniards, Guillermo Verdasco or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, on Wednesday.
It was a startling contrast to the start of Ernests Gulbis, the fifth-seeded Latvian, who was in the world’s top ten at last year’s Wimbledon, but is now at risk of tumbling rapidly from the top 20 after losing his seventh match in a row – and all five matches this year. This time it was a 7-5, 6-2 loss to Denis Istomen of Uzbekistan despite leading 4-1 in the first set
Gulbis has plausible explanations. He has had a bad shoulder and a persistent virus. The conditions were often very difficult, an umpire’s giant sunshade turning inside out in the wind, causing it to be dismantled. Several paper bags blew distractingly into the sky above the court, one descending erratically before landing on Gulbis’ racket.
And he had other problems, apart from mood, form and adverse weather. One travel bag was lost during his journey, causing him to arrive without tennis shoes.
“I bought shoes here one size too small, so I was practising in shoes one size too small,” he said. “Didn’t break my good mood until today’s match.”