Roger Federer advances at French Open in first Grand Slam match since knee surgery

PARIS — They feted Roger Federer with as loud as applause gets from a crowd capped at 1,000 people in Court Philippe Chatrier — when he walked out with a wave, when he hit one of his 48 winners, even when he attempted a back-to-the-net ‘tweener and hit the ball out.

This match bathed in sunshine Monday meant Federer finally was back at the French Open and back in Grand Slam action and he gave the excited fans what they wanted perhaps as much as he did: a victory.

Federer’s first competition at any major tournament in 16 months ended with him on the right side of a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 score against qualifier Denis Istomin at the French Open as fans chanted “Ro-ger! Ro-ger!”

It was a case of many happy returns — and serves, forehands, backhands, volleys and drop shots, too.

“What a pleasure to be back,” Federer said.

Showing no signs of rust, really, or trouble with the right knee that needed two operations last year, Federer produced more than twice as many winners as his 20 unforced errors and never faced a break point while improving to 8-0 against Istomin over their careers.

“Always great to be on court with this legend. To play against him is always a big (deal),” Istomin said. “I was expecting all the spectators to cheer for him.”

They sure did, with one voice from the stands shouting, “A delight, Roger! A delight!” as Federer went up 4-2 in the third set.

Federer, whose 40th birthday is Aug. 8, hadn’t appeared on the Grand Slam stage since Jan. 30, 2020, when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals.

This was just Federer’s second trip to the French Open since 2015. In addition to last year’s absence because of the knee issues, he withdrew in 2016 citing a bad back, then sat out the clay-court circuit each of the next two years to focus on the grass-court portion of the season.

He acknowledged recently he has zero chance of claiming the trophy this time around in Paris; instead, he is hoping to tune up his game to be ready to challenge for a championship at Wimbledon, where play begins in late June.

“In a way I like this situation — that I don’t know what’s next, how my next match will be. I don’t even know who I play, to be honest,” said Federer, whose second-round opponent will be 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic. “I take it round by round, match by match.”

After rhythmic clapping accompanied Federer’s trot to the baseline for the match’s opening point, he got off to the perfect start against Istomin, who is ranked 204th and now is the owner of a seven-match Grand Slam losing streak but did upset Djokovic at the 2017 Australian Open.

Federer used a drop shot to earn a break point in the opening game, then converted it with a forehand winner, before holding to go up 2-0.

Just 1½ hours later, it was over for Federer, who won the 2009 French Open for one of his 20 Grand Slam titles.

He shares that men’s record with rival Rafael Nadal, who is scheduled to play his first-round match Tuesday to open his bid for a 14th championship in Paris and tiebreaking 21st major overall. Djokovic also is slated to make his debut on Day 3 of the clay-court tournament.

Daniil Medvedev doesn’t have the same history as Federer, but his win Monday may have been just as personally important.

The second-seeded Russian, who lost in the first round on each of his four previous appearances on the Parisian red clay, claimed a maiden win at the Grand Slam event by defeating Alexander Bublik 6-3, 6-3, 7-5.

Medvedev has often struggled on the slow surface — he is 12-20 on clay — and much prefers hard courts, where his record is 148-59. He has won all of his 10 titles on the fast surface.

During his on-court interview, Medvedev told the crowd he feels the balls used in Paris suit his game really well.

“Since I arrived here I’m feeling really well, I can almost play as if on hard courts,” he said. “Hopefully I can achieve something big.”

A two-time Grand Slam runner-up, Medvedev is bidding to become the third Russian man to win a major after Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.

Italian rising star Jannik Sinner saved a match point in his opening match before rallying past Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-1, 4-6, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4.

The 18th-seeded teenager was on the verge of a shocking exit at Roland Garros, a year after making it to the quarterfinals in his debut there. But Herbert could not seize his chance, shanking a shot wide at 4-5, 30-40 in the fourth set.

That proved to be a turning point as Sinner finally held, broke and sealed the set. Herbert’s missed backhand volley then gave Sinner an early break in the decider, and the Italian prevailed with his deep groundstrokes.

A relieved Sinner said, “It’s a crazy sport and I’m happy it went my way.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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