The lob from Guillermo Garcia-Lopez’s racquet flew high into the sky above Monte Carlo. When it came down, it would present the first big test of Roger Federer’s one-hour-old comeback.
A few minutes earlier, Federer had held what appeared to be an insurmountable 6-3, 5-1 lead over the Spaniard. In his first match since undergoing knee surgery in February, Federer looked lean, hungry and spry. While most of us grow progressively and unfortunately larger with age, Federer keeps slimming down. With his hair similarly clipped, he looked as trim and wiry as he ever has.
He also moved just as fast. As always, Federer played with a bracing, no-time-to-waste quickness between points and didn’t sacrifice any of his customary aggressiveness on the slower surface. He ran around his backhand and went after his forehand whenever he had a chance. He served and volleyed with steady success. He pushed Garcia-Lopez wide with his kick. He saved a break point in the first set with a brave backhand down the line that dropped into the corner for a winner. And it took just six games before he let out a “Come on!” after a winning point.
Yet as Federer saw Garcia-Lopez’s lob begin its descent, he suddenly found himself under pressure to come up with a difficult shot. Serving for the match at 5-2, Federer had played an overly safe game and been broken. Now, serving for it again at 5-4, Federer had watched as Garcia-Lopez put a running backhand pass on the line to go up 15-30. If Federer didn’t stick this overhead, the Spaniard would be a point away from improbably leveling the second set at 5-5. But Federer did stick it, perhaps a little closer to the back corner than he intended, but with more than enough pace to win the point. A minute or so later, the match was his as well.