Dubai Tennis: Roger Federer gets bid for eighth title up and running with victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber
Swiss takes head-to-head record against Kohlschreiber to 14-0 with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Even Roger Federer resolves sometimes to simply get through it.
So it was on Monday, when the 20-time grand slam champion began his quest for an eighth Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title.
Out around 7pm on Centre Court, where the wind swirled like the support from a packed and partisan crowd, Federer outlasted in three sets good friend Philipp Kohlschreiber.
The Swiss won the first set, gave up the second, then breezed through the decider, much to the joy of those wrapped up in the action, and in their finest winter wear, too.
Federer returned their affection on court, albeit eventually, sealing a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory in one hour and 35 minutes. With it, he advanced his head-to-head record against Kohlschreiber to 14-0.
He progressed also to the second round, where he will meet 2017 runner-up Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday.
Given the conditions, Federer was glad merely to have gotten there.
“Just somehow get through,” he responded when asked to sum up the match. “Somehow try not to lose. I know you always play to win, but sometimes in the wind, in a first round against Kohlschreiber, who can play very well in spells, especially in conditions like this.
“It's a match against the conditions really more than the opponent, which is a completely different mind-set than when you go out and, ‘OK, I need to do this on the slice to get him to pop it up, then I do that’. This was none of that.
“This is making sure I get enough balls into play. You stay aggressive, maybe even though you're not feeling so well. It's swirly and all that stuff. I'm very pleased I was able to find a way. I actually played a really good third set, I thought.”
He certainly did that. Right back at the beginning, though, Federer displayed little sign of struggling against the elements. He broke Kohlschreiber in the very first game, then converted his second set point.
Kohlschreiber replied with a couple of breaks in the second set – Federer claimed one back – and even snapped his racquet, annoyed at failing to level the match at first opportunity.
In the third, however, Federer cracked his opponent’s will. An early break was followed by another to race 5-1 up. From there, he served out the win.
“I was maybe expecting a little better,” he said. “The first two sets, especially the first set and a half, I thought was so hard on the rhythm. I really struggled to get everything going.
“I played well in practice. I know the game's there - it was just really difficult conditions tonight. I think it's been a month since I've played in the wind, to be quite honest.”
It’s been two years since he competed in Dubai, and four since the last of seven titles there. Yet the backing hasn’t diminished.
“I do notice it; I do feel crowd support,” Federer said. “They're doing the Mexican wave I guess to cheer me up today because I was down in the second set. Usually they do it when I'm in the lead, but they were chanting my name, so I took it as a positive.
“Definitely one of the big reasons why I'm still also playing is to feel the crowd, to get close to them, try to hit good shots, try to put on a show. Tonight maybe was not quite that, but I'm still around, so I get a second chance on Wednesday.”
Then he takes on Verdasco, whom he enjoys another unblemished record against, this time 6-0. Although, Verdasco said earlier on Monday, the Spaniard is looking forward match-up No 7.
“That's no good,” Federer smiled. “No, I'm joking. He's a good guy. I think he's got one of the most wonderful forehands on the tour. We've seen the great shot-making he has been able to produce over the course of his career.
“He's a good player, can definitely peak against the top guys. I think that's why he's still playing, for those kind of matches. So I have to be careful.”
Updated: February 26, 2019 11:09 AM