All Roger Federer had to do was strike a few silky forehands in his first practice session at Roland Garros for four years to create something of a social media frenzy this week.
Ever since the 37-year-old announced he was ending his self-imposed French Open exile, anticipation has been growing and video footage of his gentle warm-up on Tuesday sent his legions of fans into a frenzy.
It is 10 years since Federer claimed his one and only title on the Parisian dirt — completing his career slam with victory over Swede Robin Soderling.
He opted to skip the French Open for the past three years — a decision based on prolonging his career — but a decade after lifting La Coupe des Mousquetaires ,he returns not just for old time’s sake, but because the Swiss must truly believe he has a chance of a 21st Grand Slam title.
Federer showed enough in a quarter-final run in Madrid — his first claycourt tournament for three years — that he had not forgotten how to slide with the best of them.
He also won a couple of rounds in Rome last week before withdrawing ahead of his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas citing a minor injury concern.
Federer will step into a new look Roland Garros this year and admits it has been hard to be away.
Asked why he returned in an interview with French TV channel Stade 2, he explained: “What made me decide to come back to Roland-Garros? In the end, it’s envy,” he said.
“I like slipping, cushioning, riding at odds, playing with angles and to see the fans I have not seen here.”
Federer’s last match at Roland Garros was a quarter-final loss to fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in 2015.
Since then he has added two Australian Opens and one more Wimbledon title to his glittering record and he clearly still hungers after the game’s biggest prizes.
But with his 38th birthday looming and a host of dangerous claycourters assembling in Paris, it would surely top any of his previous feats if he reclaimed the title.
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