After two knee surgeries and the most extended break of his career, Roger Federer was eager to return and show his best tennis in Halle and Wimbledon on his beloved grass. The Swiss withdrew from Roland Garros after earning three victories to preserve his knee and chase titles at events where he had much success in the past.
In his first match on grass in two years, Federer prevailed over Ilya Ivashka 7-6, 7-5 in an hour and 34 minutes for his 70th Halle triumph. It was Federer's seventh match in the last 16 and a half months, and he had to work hard against the rival who entered only his fifth ATP match on grass in a career.
Ivashka made Federer run for his money, staying in touch all the time and getting broken only in the closing stages of the second set. After the win, Roger said he was happy to play on grass again, feeling good and looking forward to his following challenges.
The Belarusian lost only five points behind the initial shot in the entire opening set, doing his best to follow Roger's pace and creating two return chances at 2-1. Federer sprayed a backhand error to face problems but fended them off to avoid the setback.
Both players served well in the rest of the set, and the Swiss moved 2-1 up in the tie break with a forehand winner. A volley winner sent the defending champion 6-1 ahead, and he closed the set with another good volley at the net in the 11th point.
There was nothing to separate the rivals in set number two, and Federer clinched the ninth game with a forehand winner to keep the pressure to the other side.
Roger Federer made a winning start in Halle against Ilya Ivashka.
Ivashka faced a match point in the tenth game, struggling on serve for the first time but repelling it with a volley winner.
Staying focused, Federer secured the first and only break at 6-5 after Ivashka's forehand error to secure the victory, his first on grass since the 2019 Wimbledon semi-final against Rafael Nadal. "Yeah, I missed grass; I have not played on it for two years.
After competing on hard and clay this year, it's great to be back in Halle; I love playing here. It's disappointing not to see a bigger crowd, but I'm excited to play on the green grass, especially to score a win.
Unlike on clay, you can count on more service winners and shorter rallies on grass, with more guessing on both serve and return. I had a tough moment in the opening set, and saving those break points was crucial ahead of the tie break, which I played well.
As the match went on, I tried to make more opportunities and calm my nerves. I served well, and I'm thrilled to pass the first round and make a winning start. My initial shot has been working well since I returned, and I have to focus on my legs, the match fitness and the right decisions," Roger Federer said.