Roger Federer relishes French Open return after 3-year absence

PARIS — When Roger Federer played his first match at Roland Garros, the domestic currency was francs rather than euros and Steffi Graf was about to claim a sixth French Open title.

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

“I was really happy to play against Rafter, who was one of the most popular players on the tour,” Federer recalled 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.

A lot of things have happened since 1999 for 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.

“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 — he withdrew before the 2016 French Open — and focused on Wimbledon, Federer skipped the clay-court circuit completely in 2017 and 2018. He came back on the slow surface this season and reached the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome.

After a few days of practice in the French capital, Federer, 37, feels ready for the Parisian clay.

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.”

Samuel Petrequin is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Roger-Federer-relishes-French-Open-return-after-13895586.php.

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