Madrid: Roger Federer was so dominant on Tuesday that his first clay-court match for three years took on the feeling of an exhibition. The Swiss needed just 52 minutes to hand out a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Richard Gasquet and send the clearest of messages around the locker room: the old fella is back.
Admittedly, Gasquet was not the most dangerous of opponents, having only recently returned from a six-month injury lay-off of his own.
Before the match, there were rumours flying around the Caja Magica that Gasquet might even withdraw as a result of numerous aches and pains after his arduous first-round win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
As it happened, Gasquet did show up, and delivered some eye-catching strokes of his own. But this match bore no resemblance to the grinding, physical image of clay-court tennis. Both men were looking for winners at the earliest opportunity, either by slamming the ball through the altitude-thin air or by feathering sublime drop shots just over the net.
Actually, those last delicacies all stemmed from Federer's racket, because Gasquet's attempts to reply in kind fell well short of their target.
There was no tension on Court Manolo Santana, but that did not stop the crowd from loving the show. Afterwards, Federer said that he had relished the whole occasion.
"I've missed the clay-court season for some time now," said Federer, who had not played on the red stuff since he lost to Dominic Thiem in Rome in 2016.
"It was a great return. It was a sort of special night for me."
Asked if he had felt any anxiety in advance – and remember that Federer had instituted his clay-court boycott to protect the left-knee meniscus that he tore three years ago – he replied: "I was actually very calm all day waiting for the match. I only felt the nerves when I was talking about the tactics. All of a sudden I was a bit nervous two hours before the match. But it all went away once the match started."
Earlier, Britain's two No 1s, Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund, both lost, leaving the doubles players to fly the Union Jack for the rest of the week. With Konta's Fed Cup comrade Katie Boulter also facing a lengthy lay-off because of a suspected spinal stress fracture, this has been a disappointing week for the British contingent.