Roger Federer began his bid for a sixth title at the Swiss Indoors by beating substitute opponent Benjamin Becker 7-5, 6-3 on Monday to reach the second round.
The German, ranked 83rd with one career title, had replaced injured Frenchman Jeremy Chardy as the first opponent for the Swiss home hero and world No. 1.
Federer, who has won five of the last six editions at the St Jakobshalle, where he got his start in tennis as a ballboy at the tournament almost two decades ago, needed to work to get past the persistent Becker, whom he beat in their past two meetings, the last in 2010.
“I was well-prepared to play Becker instead of Chardy,” said Federer, bidding for his 77th career title this week and after more than 300 weeks spent as the ATP No. 1.
“You have to keep the game of these guys in mind. You don’t play them that much, but you need to know how they play,” he said.
The winner advanced in just under 90 minutes after a first set that took an hour and fired 10 aces in victory.
However, the Swiss did not have it all his own way, missing on six break points in the opening set and going down a break in the second, before finally settling in, taking charge and running out the winner.
“I don’t know exactly how I changed it around,” said Federer, playing his first match since losing a Shanghai semi-final nine days ago to Andy Murray, sitting out this tournament with a back injury. “He broke me at 2-3, but I was able to get it straight back. It all went so fast at the end, but the first set was really tough.”
Federer’s win was his 65th of the season against nine losses. He owns an ATP-leading six titles this year.
“It is just so great to play at home as world No. 1 after the season I’ve had,” Federer said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be here playing at the top of my game. Sometimes things just all come together.”
Federer is making his 13th appearance in his hometown tournament and now stands 44-7 at the event. Besides his five titles, he also played finals in 2000-2001 and 2009.
The winner will await an opponent from Brazilian Tomaz Bellucci, finalist at the weekend in Moscow, and Japan’s Go Soeda.
The top-ranked Swiss is heavily favored to claim his seventh title this year after Murray pulled out. The Briton’s withdrawal elevated Juan Martin del Porto of Argentina to No. 2 seed.
Also on Monday, third-seeded Richard Gasquet of France rallied past Robin Haase of the Netherlands 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, Julien Benneteau of France beat Russia’s Andrey Kuznetzov 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, and Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot defeated Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 6-4, 6-4.
AP, VALENCIA, Spain
Former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt knocked out Juan Monaco of Argentina 6-3, 6-4 in the opening round of the Valencia Open on Monday, ending a 10-match losing run against top-10 opponents.
The Australian wild-card entry broke the 10th-ranked Monaco twice in the opening set and three times in the second at the indoor hard-court tournament. The loss makes it difficult for the Argentine to qualify for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Hewitt will face Ivan Dodig after the Croatian qualifier beat Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) .
John Isner outlasted Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-5 for the American to stay in the hunt for a spot at the World Tour Finals. The 11th-ranked Isner plays Albert Ramos of Spain, who defeated Rajeev Ram of the United States 6-3, 6-3. Fernando Verdasco beat Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-4 in an all-Spanish match and will play Marin Cilic of Croatia. David Goffin of Belgium beat Pablo Andujar of Spain 6-2, 6-2.