ROME: Roger Federer joined Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in reaching the third round of the Rome Masters on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) with the Swiss admitting that he was fully expecting to lose against Alexander Zverev.
“I’m cautious but extremely happy – I was expecting to lose in straight sets today,” admitted the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who withdrew last week from Madrid with back pain.
“That was the mindset going in. To win in straights is actually a really big surprise to me.
“I only decided after the warm-up that I was actually going to play. For me it was a big match on many levels.”
The 89-minute match was the first for the 34-year-old Swiss since losing a Monte Carlo quarterfinals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga nearly a month ago.
Even in victory Federer said that he would decide at the last minute whether he can take to the court on Thursday against 13th seed Dominic Thiem, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Joao Sousa.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow. I hope [I can play]. I’m literally going practice after practices. It’s baby steps right now.”
Rome marks only the fourth tournament of the season for Federer, who underwent knee surgery in early February, the first operation of his career.
Federer broke for 4-2 on his way to collecting the opening set in 28 minutes.
The Swiss then earned a break in the third game of the second set but then lost serve for 2-all.
The veteran broke back on his fourth opportunity in the 11th game for a 6-5 lead and finished off the welcome win a game later, a drop shot setting up two match points with Zverev driving wide on the first.
Top seed Djokovic and number two Murray produced no-drama victories, with the Serb beating Stephane Robert 7-5, 7-5 while Murray put out Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3.
“Today was an extremely difficult match,” Djokovic said. “Conditions were very tough, he was very unpredictable with his shots.
“Obviously he didn’t have anything to lose, so he was going for some shots that were amazing.
“It wasn’t easy for me to find my way through the match. When it mattered the most, I managed to make him play an extra shot and pull this one through.”
Rafael Nadal continued his recent good form, beating Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-3.
Australian Nick Kyrgios picked up another big win in an excellent season so far, putting out tenth seed Milos Raonic 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.
French 11th seed Richard Gasquet beat Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-4.