Federer Relishes French Open Return

Switzerland's Roger Federer returns the ball during his match against Portugal's Joao Sousa at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May, 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

PARIS — When Roger Federer played his first match at Roland Garros the domestic currency was francs rather than euros, Steffi Graf was about to claim a sixth French Open title and few had heard of the young Swiss player who would go on to become a tennis great.

It was 20 years ago when the teenage Federer made his Paris debut and lost in four sets to the experienced Australian Pat Rafter.

“I was really happy to play against Rafter, who was one of the most popular players on the tour,” Federer recalled on Friday. “It was great being able to play him on the Suzanne Lenglen Court rather than on Court 23.

“My memories go way back. I remember vividly the Martina Hingis-Steffi Graf (final that year) because Martina was basically my age and was doing things and I didn’t know how she did it.

“But at a young age while I was still in diapers,” he joked.

“My memories go to that and to Jim Courier winning the French Open (1991-92).”

A lot of things have happened since 1999 for the elegant Federer, who has amassed 20 Grand Slam crowns and collected his 101st career title earlier this season.

After a three-year hiatus, he is back in Paris, 10 years after completing a career Grand Slam with his only title at Roland Garros, a victory he said was “one of the greatest moments in (his) life.”

“A lot of things have changed,” Federer said, gazing at the new interview room set up in the temporary press center. Organizers have launched a major overhaul of the facilities and transformed the site with more space and new courts.

“This is the first time I’m in this room. Center court looks very different. Still, I feel it is the old Roland Garros. It’s kept its flair and everything. I’m very happy to be back. Maybe a tiny bit more because I have missed the last three editions, and when you miss something in life, you’re happy to be back there again.”

Hampered by injuries and focused on Wimbledon, Federer skipped the clay-court circuit in 2017 and 2018. He came back on the slow surface this season and reached the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome.

In Madrid, he held two match points against Dominic Thiem before losing, and saved two match points in Rome against Borna Coric to reach the quarterfinals. He then withdrew because of a small problem with his right leg but gave reassuring news about his fitness on Friday.

“Being healthy is really key at this stage of my career and the last time I was really badly injured was Montreal two years ago,” he said. “I’m very happy how my body has been.”

Federer’s favorite Grand Slam tournament has always been Wimbledon, where the quick grass surface perfectly suits his attacking style. But after a few days of practice in the French capital, he feels ready for the Parisian clay.

“I have been able to train hard enough, and I’ve also had the necessary tough matches in Madrid and Rome,” he said. “I really feel like playing under pressure and playing with nerves was important for me, so I feel totally ready.”

The 37-year-old starts his campaign against Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, a quarterfinalist in Monte Carlo last month. Asked whether he thought he could win the title again, Federer gave a cautious answer.

“Don’t know. A bit of a question mark for me,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing good tennis, but is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I’m not sure if it’s in my racket, you know. But I hope I can get myself in that position deep down in the tournament against the top guys.”

The French Open starts on Sunday.

Kyrgios withdraws from French Open, citing illness

PARIS (AP) — After a tantrum in Italy last week, the 36th-ranked Nick Kyrgios withdrew from the French Open on Friday.

The ATP said the Australian player cited illness as the reason.

Kyrgios was defaulted at the Italian Open after a raging outburst. Trailing against Norwegian qualifier Casper Ruud in round two, he slammed his racket into the clay and kicked a water bottle. Then he picked up a chair and flung it onto the court.

He was fined and lost ATP points but escaped a suspension.

The controversial Kyrgios’s withdrawal came only days after he posted a video online in which he said the French Open “sucks” when compared to Wimbledon, where he trained recently.

In 2015, he insulted Stan Wawrinka with crude remarks during a match in Montreal. He was fined $12,500 and given a suspended 28-day ban. He also attracted criticism for deciding not to play at the 2016 Rio Olympics because of a spat with an Australian team official, and for firing back at retired players who have offered advice.

Kyrgios was due to start his Roland Garros campaign against Cameron Norrie of Britain.

The tournament starts on Sunday.

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