After hibernating through the clay season, with good reason, Roger Federer has woken up again. Today at the Stuttgart Open, he played his first match since March. Millions of fans and also his wife were pleased by this development.
Back on his preferred grass courts and given a bye as the top seed in Stuttgart, Federer’s first test was Mischa Zverev in a second-round match. The older Zverev brother is an entertaining anachronism, a relentless serve-and-volleyer who would’ve been a menace back when the grass played faster and the strings were less potent. He’s still impressively pesky, even on these slower courts. At the very least he provides a radically different puzzle to solve. The rhythm of his game can derange the best baseline players, most famously Andy Murray at last year’s Australian Open.
Today that rhythm was good enough to earn Zverev the opening set, a new turn after losing all 12 sets across five previous matches versus Federer, but he lost the match 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. It was a good antidote for any clay-court rally fatigue: Net-rushing tends to produce both crazy reflex volleys and crisp passing shots. The backhand passing shot in particular has been a staple of Federer highlight reels for some 15 years, and today’s match brought five good instances. The swings have gotten shorter, but the idea’s still the same.
Mmm, that was soothing. Plenty more of that to come.