ROME: Former world number one Roger Federer marked his return to the Italian Open for the first time since 2016 with a 6-4 6-3 second-round win over Joao Sousa on Thursday.
The Swiss had criticized organizers for doubling ticket prices after he confirmed his participation last weekend but the fans who had made their way into Foro Italico on Thursday have been rewarded with a Federer double bill.
With rain having washed out Wednesday’s play, Federer along with champion Rafael Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic all face playing back-to-back matches on Thursday if they want to reach the quarter-finals.
The backlog means that fans on the secondary Grandstand Court can also look forward to a blockbuster schedule as Federer will be back for an evening showdown with Croatian Borna Coric.
Earlier in the day, Nadal had treated the Grandstand fans to a 6-0 6-1 demolition of Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and the Spaniard will be back on action on the main stage against Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Women’s world number one Naomi Osaka produced a solid performance to beat Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova 6-3 6-3 in the day’s opener.
Djokovic, fresh from winning last week’s Madrid Open, was playing Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the round of 32. A clash with either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Marco Cecchinato will be the winner’s reward.
The 37-year old Federer moved around the court like his younger self as he rifled in 17 winners in the opening set, having broken Sousa in the seventh game before he saved a triple break point, the last one with a stunning crosscourt forehand.
Having broken Sousa’s serve in the opening game of the second set, the Swiss maestro was at his best again in the seventh as he saved a double break point and went on to wrap up the entertaining contest.
“I came out of the blocks well and held serve throughout, so I am very happy to be in the next round,” said Federer.
“I played today already and Borna didn’t. I don’t know whether it’s a disadvantage or not but either way it’s going to be tough.”
After crashing out in the semi-finals on home soil in Madrid, Nadal wasted no time in making a statement of intent as he blew away Chardy.
Nadal won 80 percent of the points on both his first and second serve as he tormented the Frenchman with a barrage of stinging baseline shots.
Osaka made a slow start against Cibulkova as the Slovakian broke the world number one in the third game of the opening set but regained her composure quickly.
The Japanese served two aces to save a double break point in the eighth game and enjoyed plain sailing for the rest of the tie after clinching the game with a service winner.
In the men’s draw, Fernando Verdasco ground out a surprise 4-6 6-4 7-5 win over fifth seed Dominic Thiem, as did Jan-Lennard Struff with a 6-2 6-3 hammering of Marin Cilic.