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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, June 14, 2021


Roger Federer launched quest for an 11th Halle title stopping qualifier Ilya Ivashka 7-6(4), 7-5 to win his first grass-court match since the 2019 Wimbledon.

Photo credit: Getty

Surveying the emerald court in Halle's Owl Arena, Roger Federer summed up anticipation of his 2021 grass debut: "Halle is like coming home."

A short lob from Roger Federer Allee—the Halle street honoring the 20-time Grand Slam champion—Federer reclaimed the the Halle lawn today.

More: Djokovic Rallies To 19th Major Title

Launching his quest for a record-extending 11th Halle title, Federer scored the lone break in the last game beating Belarusian qualifier Ilya Ivashka 7-6(4), 7-5 advancing to the Noventi Open second round.

The fifth-seeded Federer, who withdrew from Roland Garros after a physical third-round win over Dominik Koepfer, moved with vigor, served sharply and said he felt pain-free after completing his seventh match of the 2021 season.

"The serve has been there throughout," Federer said. "The back is good. I feel fine. From that standpoint it's really just the legs and match fitness I'm looking forward to and getting through breakers like I did in Paris.

"Getting through breakers here as well on a completely different surface, staying calm, playing the right decision when it's most important.I think that's what it's about for me right now."

It was Federer's first grass-court match since July 14th, 2019 when a defiant Novak Djokovic denied two championship points in the final set fighting off rival Federer, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) to successfully defend his Wimbledon title in The Championships' longest final—and first men’s major final decided in a fifth-set tie breaker.

This Halle homecoming started a bit slow for the Swiss, but Federer grew sharper and stronger as the match progressed raising his Halle record to 69-7 since his 2000 debut. Continuing his quest for a 20th grass-court title, Federer said he was satisfied with his winning return to lawn, improving his career grass-court record to 188-27.

"I missed it; haven't played a tournament in two years on this [surface]," Federer said afterward. "I was on the hard courts. I was on the clay, now I'm on the grass so it's been great playing back here in Halle. I love playing here. Just very little crowd it's obviously a bit of  a disappointment for all of us.

"At the same time, I'm excited to be back on the green grass and getting a win is obviously always nice."

After a challenging adjustment period that saw Federer whiff on a backhand and struggle to gain traction in Ivashka's first-set service games, the 39-year-old Swiss was moving more fluidly and firing his forehand with more menace.

Though Ivashka carried a 1-4 career record vs. Top 10 opponents onto court, he showed his skills taking the first set from Rafael Nadal on the Spaniard's namesake court in Barcelona before the 13-time Roland Garros champion rallied for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 comeback win to reach the Barcelona Open round of 16. 

Facing tennis hero Federer, Ivashka applied pressure first.

Federer faced a double-break point challenge in the fourth game firing an inside-out forehand to quiet the threat holding for 2-all. While fans were not permitted inside the Owl Arena, Federer's wife, Mirka, wearing an "RF" baseball cap, and a few hundred corporate guests were scattered around seats enjoying the action.

The 90th-ranked Ivashka, the first Belarusian to finish a season ranked inside the ATP Top 100 since Max Mirnyi, Federer's former doubles partner in 2006, carried an 8-7 record on court and stayed in step throughout the opening set. The 6'4" Ivashka won 20 of his first 21 points played on serve and pumped seven aces as he held for 5-4.

The fifth-seeded Swiss caressed a drop shot into the short court leveling after 10 games. While Federer misfired on a few forehands earlier in the set and whiffed on a backhand at one point he began to find range and rhythm as the set progressed.

Straddling the baseline for a second serve return, Federer fired his forehand right back at Ivashka rattling out the error for the mini break. The Belarusian got it right back, spinning a forehand winner down the line on the second point.  Successive Ivashka running errors gave Federer two mini breaks in a row for 4-1.

Showing fantastic feel, Federer ladled a backhand drop volley winner for five set points. On his third set point, the champion double faulted. Federer fended off a dangerous return that danced right near the baseline, extended the point with a stretched slice then transition to attack sticking a forehand volley down the line for a one-set lead after 45 minutes. Mirka, smart phone raised, took a shot of her husband's first set on grass since his 2019 Wimbledon defeat to Novak Djokovic.

Though Ivashka did not face a break point in the opener and won 12 of 14 second-serve points, the 27-year-old qualifier had nothing to show for it.

The eight-time Wimbledon winner left the court after the opening set for a brief break. Though Federer's net approaches were limited in the opening set, he was hitting his running forehand with more precision as the second set progressed.

Tennis Express

One of Federer's first serve-and-volley forays of the day ended with him slapping a smash into net followed by a an errant forehand drive volley that elicited a sight shrug of the shoulders in the ninth game. Serving at 30-all, Federer turned it up and muted the threat, lashing a forehand winner down the line for a 5-4 second-set lead.

The man sporting the skull on his shirt sailed a backhand down the line to drop to deuce in the 10th game. Federer flicked a forehand return down the line off a second serve drawing the error for match point. Ivashka closed tight to the net to knock off a backhand volley winner and avoid touching the net with his toes. That match point saved helped propel the Belarusian through a tough hold leveling after 10 games.

A crackling forehand drive volley and a poked forehand pass off a drop shot helped Federer hold for 6-5 and shift the pressure right back on Ivashka's shoulders.

"You can't compare to the clay courts [to grass]," Federer said. "You're not going to get those rallies you're maybe looking for or you might get more service winners, aces, you can get your opponent guessing much more on the service and return games than any other surface especially on a grass court like here in Halle.

"Tough moment early on in tje first set when he had break points, so that was crucial to get out of those. And I played a good tie breaker, which I was happy about. I think as the match went on I started to create more opportunities and also calm my nerve a bit. Overall, I think I served very well. Clearly can always be a little bit better. Listen I'm very happy and excited I was able to get through the first round."

Charging out to a triple break point lead in the 12th game, Federer caught the top of the tape with a backhand down the line on the first match point. Ivashka lasered a serve down the middle to save a third match point.

On the fourth match point, Federer flicked a backhand return that Ivashka could not handle to close in one hour, 34 minutes. Next up for Federer is a round of 16 encounter with either Felix Auger-Aliassime or Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz.


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