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Roger Federer Wins and Mohamed Lahyani is in the Chair • In Related News, the Sky is Blue

By Ricky Dimon

Roger Federer had not played a tennis match in more than 13 months.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Federer won, and Mohamed Lahyani was in the umpire’s chair for the biggest match of the day. Those two things are just about as normal as the sky being blue.

But that’s not to say it was easy for Federer in his comeback match at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open on Wednesday evening. The 39-year-old survived a stern test from Dan Evans, prevailing 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-5 after two hours and 25 minutes to book his spot in the quarterfinals.

It was dramatic from start to finish, and not just because it was Roger Federer on a tennis court for the first time since the 2020 Australian Open. The first set did not see a single break of serve, with Federer saving one break point at 4-4. In the tiebreaker, they traded mini-breaks on multiple occasions–Federer had the lead early, Evans went ahead midway through it, Federer took a lead late, it was back on serve at 8-8, and the Swiss finally took the last two points to clinch it. In the second, one break–which came at 2-1–was enough for Evans to level the contest. Federer earned a break point in two different games, but he could not convert.

That set the stage for a thrilling third set. The 20-time Grand Slam champion crucially fought off two break points at 3-3, which eventually put him on the brink of victory in the 10th game. Serving to stay alive, Evans survived three deuces–and one match point with a perfect serve-and-volley tactic–to hold for 5-5. At 5-6, however, the Brit finally cracked. A couple of errors put him in another match-point hole, and this time Federer converted in classic fashion with a blistering backhand winner. 

“It feels great to be back. I’m happy regardless of if I won or lost, but winning is obviously better,” the world No. 6 said on court afterward. “It was a great match. Dan played a good match, too. He’s been a wonderful training partner for me. In the last two weeks we’ve played over 20 sets. It was great fun.

“I was tired at the end. I just said if I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out swinging. Dan had more energy left at the end (when he saved the match points). I thought I played a really, really good match, so I’m incredibly happy about my performance. It was a pleasure to share the court with Dan. It was nice to finish with a backhand down the line on match point, of course.”

It was a sight tennis fans had not seen for more than a year, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic but mainly because Federer underwent multiple knee procedures in 2020. He had hoped to be back for the Aussie Open this year, but the knee was not quite ready. Heck, Federer had been out so long that at the pre-match coin toss he had to ask Mohamed about some of the new protocols such as if ballboys would be giving him his towel in between points or if he had to get it himself!

On Wednesday, Federer’s return was worth the wait.

“I hope tonight was a bit of an uplift from everything going on in the world,” he said.

It’s safe to say it was.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.