The natives in the 9,000-seat St. Jakobshalle were restless for much of the first set, but finally, their man, Roger Federer, came through to take the set and eventually the match over Potito Starace—7-6 (3), 6-4—in the first round of the Swiss Indoors in Basel on Monday.
All tennis players would like to know how to start a tournament in top form after a layoff, but it is very difficult to do, as Federer showed in the early going against the No. 55-ranked Italian. Not having played since his Davis Cup win over Bernard Tomic in Sydney more than six weeks ago, Federer showed plenty of rust.
Tied at a game apiece and trailing love-30 on his serve in the third game, Federer botched a forehand that arced high in the air, although it landed good for a winner. He apologized to Starace and then rallied to win the game on three consecutive points.
Federer won his next service game at love and it looked like he might be back on track, but there were more stumbles, including having to save a break point at 5-5. But Federer was patient in a rally before finally attacking the Starace backhand forcefully and watching as his opponent hit a passing shot attempt into the net.
Starace, who was 0-5 lifetime against Federer and had lost 11 sets in a row, played the set very much like a player who wasn't intimidated on his opponent’s home territory. But once it got to the tiebreak, he fell apart—making consecutive forehand errors to give Federer a 3-1 lead, and then double-faulting to fall behind 5-2. Federer responded with a double fault of his own, but took the final two points with vintage stuff, two very confident-looking forehand winners.
There had to be an element of pressure playing before the home folks in Basel, a day that the Swiss-German speaking stadium announcer called “Super Monday.” He also used English to say “welcome home Roger Federer” to loud applause later in the introductions.
A break in the opening game of the second set and Federer was able to sail to victory. Although it often didn’t seem he was serving that well—he had five double faults—Federer won 88 percent of first-serve points and 55 percent of those on second serves. At times during the first set, the home crowd seemed to get a little impatient with their man, but Federer eventually pulled out the 78-minute match with nothing more than a serviceable performance by his high standards.
This is the 12th time Federer is playing his hometown event, and he's won it four times. He'll next face the winner of Jarkko Nieminen and Thomaz Bellucci. Federer is 11-0 against the Finn and 0-0 against the Brazilian.