Rome: Roger Federer insisted his focus at this week’s Italian Open was on getting more match practice on clay ahead of the French Open in two weeks time.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner has not played on the red clay in the Foro Italico since his third round exit in 2016 having finished runner-up the previous year for the fourth time, losing to Novak Djokovic in the final.
“Regardless of what happens here, I just think it’s good for me to play matches at this stage,” said world number three Federer before his first match today.
He has a first-round bye as the number three seed, and will begin his tournament against Portugal’s Joao Sousa, who battled past American Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/4) to reach the second round.
The 37-year-old’s performance in the Madrid Open last week has boosted his hopes of winning the French Open, a decade after his only title there.
He fell in the quarter-finals on Friday to Dominic Thiem, but twice held match point and for a set and a half was dominant against a player considered among the favourites for Roland Garros after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
“I think I was playing well in Madrid, so I just said, again, ‘Let’s come to Rome, a city I like so much as well’.
“Madrid is a tough place to play. I felt like playing somewhat maybe more sea level conditions would be good for me.
“There would be excitement, more excitement than me coming to a practice court in Switzerland.
“I think this week, then next week in Paris, it’s going to be interesting to see how I play the points, how I do it all.”
His arrival in the Italian capital has been a boost for organisers who doubled ticket prices after it was announced he would be playing.
“That’s obviously disappointing to hear,” said Federer.
“They made it in a way like they rewarded the fans who bought tickets earlier, which is sort of strange.