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Federer happy to return to clay after three-year hiatus

By Reuters - May 06,2019 - Last updated at May 08,2019

Roger Federer will play in the Madrid Open, his first tournament on clay since the Italian Open in May 2016 (AFP photo by Matthew Lewis)

Former World No. 1 Roger Federer said he was glad he made the decision to return to clay courts, as he prepares for the Madrid Open this week, three years after his last match on the surface.

Federer had skipped the clay court season the past two years since last competing in Rome in May 2016, but confirmed his participation for the tournament in Madrid earlier this year.

“I’m happy that the decision I took last December, when I started feeling like I definitely want to play on the clay, was the right one,” Federer, 37, told reporters.

“I haven’t looked back yet during the clay court build-up, thinking, ‘Ah, maybe I shouldn’t have.’ I’m happy I’m here, I’m happy I am on the surface.

“It takes some time getting used to how to construct the points a little bit more because there is more baseline [play], a possibility to play with more angles and height. It’s been interesting and fun, but not so challenging.”

Federer, who recently won his 101st singles title in Miami, is the tournament’s fourth seed behind World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Alexander Zverev.

However, the 20-times Grand Slam singles champion said he was not trying to burden himself with expectations when he steps out on court at the Caja Magica.

“It will be interesting to see how this tournament goes,” Federer added. “I do not have high expectations in some ways.

“But at the same time I also know that things are possible. Madrid always plays fast with the altitude here. I’m intrigued to find out.”

Having received a bye to the second round, Federer will play the winner of the match between France’s Richard Gasquet and Spanish teenager Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who reached the semifinal of the Estoril Open last week.

Meanwhile, Greek youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas’ French Open preparations gathered momentum as he claimed his first claycourt title with a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over Pablo Cuevas at the Estoril Open on Sunday.

Top seed Tsitsipas made the most of his Uruguayan opponent’s struggles on the serve to clinch the opening set and grabbed an early break to serve at 4-3 in the second.

But the Australian Open semifinalist suffered a lapse in concentration and was broken for the first time in the contest during a stretch of nine consecutive points won by Cuevas.

Tsitsipas regained his composure to save a set point in the 10th game before sealing the victory in the tiebreak for his third career title.

“I was very calm. I stayed aggressive, stayed motivated, didn’t think too much,” the 20-year-old said. 

“He didn’t get into my head after he broke me back in the second set. That was kind of frustrating, but I kept fighting, kept believing that I can still win it in two sets.”

Tsitsipas now heads to back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome before he bids for a maiden Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros, where he was knocked out by Dominic Thiem in the second round last year.

“I’ve been building my game. It hasn’t been an easy transition from hard to clay this year, so I’ve been trying to play as many matches as I can before the big events start,” Tsitsipas added.

Also, Chilean Cristian Garin continued his remarkable breakthrough season as he defeated Matteo Berrettini 6-1 3-6, 7-6(1) in the Munich Open final on Sunday, clinching his second ATP title.

It was Garin’s 19th clay court match-win of the season and his second trophy of the year after lifting the Houston title last month.

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