Roger Federer had Dubai at his feet and the clouds hovering overhead as he stood on a helipad high above the city to promote the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships before the event began. The four-time tournament champion was in such ascendant form for one set today, Michael Llodra could have stood on stilts and still not reached Federer's heights.
The second-seeded Swiss reeled off seven straight games, racing through the opening set in 17 minutes, before Llodra lifted his level. Federer saved a set point in the second set tie breaker to subdue Llodra, 6-0, 7-6 (6) in 67 minutes.
This was clearly a tale of two very different sets. The 40th-ranked Frenchman was fresh off his final loss to Juan Martin del Potro in Sunday's Marseille final indoors. Llodra looked like he left his game and intensity back in France at the outset as he struggled to adapt to the outdoor conditions and Federer's dazzling shotmaking.
Slamming successive aces to open, Federer was as sharp as the crease in his white Nike shorts, holding at love in 53 seconds and curling a crosscourt forehand pass to break at love, winning 11 consecutive points in building a 3-0 lead after six minutes of play. Federer has won 72 consecutive matches against opponents ranked outside the Top 20 and spent much of the first set making a lunging Llodra look like a man stuck in the wrong end of a shooting gallery. When Federer rifled a forehand pass, the expressive Frenchman's eyebrows curled up like question marks, but he had no answers as Federer won 25 of 32 points played in blitzing through the first set.
To his credit, Llodra did not concede after the lopsided opening set. Llodra's flair for touch angles around net and the casual ease with which he can volley was on display in the sixth game as he won a frenetic net exchange that prompted a roar from the crowd. When Federer's shot tripped off the top of the tape, Llodra wound up as if ready to slam the ball, took a heavy fake swing then hit a controlled forehand winner down the line to hold for 3-3. Neither man was tested on serve for the rest of the set as each registered a pair of love holds to force the tie breaker.
When Llodra bumped a volley long, Federer had the mini-break and a 4-2 lead only to see Llodra win four of the next five points. The ball took a funky bounce into Federer's body, he floated a forehand long and Llodra had set point at 6-5, but Federer fired a forehand winner inside the baseline to save it. Two points later, Llodra, who seldom meets a drop shot opportunity he doesn't like, played a poor drop shot on match point, Federer raced forward and flicked a backhand winner down the line to seal the match.
Federer, who served just 46 percent in the match, including 38 percent in the second set, faces another lefty, Feliciano Lopez, in the second round.