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Roger Federer Takes an Uncertain Step in His Comeback

“I started really hitting through my shots for a while, but at the same time I told myself that it was going to be difficult to keep that up for two sets,” Federer said. “And that’s down to a lack of confidence. I couldn’t say to myself, ‘Yes, you’re going to close out this match.’”

Even for all-time greats, confidence is essential and ephemeral. Federer looked slightly apologetic as he shook hands and exchanged post-match pleasantries with Andújar. He had not expected to be in top form this week, but he had hoped to play more than one match on home clay. Only 100 spectators were allowed on site, but a few more than that were watching in person. Some Swiss fans had managed to sneak into the woods next to the club.

But this was not vintage Federer they were watching through the trees, and for all his tennis genius, it is no sure thing that a vintage Federer will reappear.

What is clear is that the French Open, which begins on the red clay in Paris on May 30, is not his main goal. The big target is Wimbledon, which begins on June 28 at the All England Club, the grassy tennis temple where he has won eight titles and where he held two match points in the 2019 final before losing to Novak Djokovic.

“I think Paris is going to be really challenging for him,” Annacone said. “But if the body sustains itself and maintains good health and he gets enough reps, Roger’s not going to go into the grass season not thinking he can win Wimbledon. He’ll say all the right stuff, but in his heart of hearts, he knows he can win that tournament. But the less dominant you are, the more that aura of invincibility starts to dissipate just a tad, and it only needs to dissipate a tad to make a difference. The locker room antenna is up.”

It is not up just for Federer. Tuesday was a tough day on clay all around for 39-year-old tennis legends. Serena Williams, returning to action this month after not playing since February, struggled in Parma, Italy, at the same time Federer was struggling in Geneva.

Williams lost, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in the second round to the 68th-ranked Katerina Siniakova, double-faulting at key moments and dropping 16 of the last 18 points.

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