Playing on his beloved grass for the first time in two years, Roger Federer made a winning start in Halle, closing on the 70th victory at his beloved event. Roger ousted Ilya Ivashka 7-6, 7-5 in an hour and 34 minutes to kick off the title defense and chase the 11th Halle crown.
It was Federer's seventh match in the last 16 and a half months, struggling with a knee injury last year and slowly making a comeback. Ilya played only his fifth encounter on the fastest surface on the ATP level and stayed in touch with Federer until the closing stages of the second set, when he got broken for the first time.
After the win, Federer 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 chances on the return 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 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.
Ivashka faced a match point in the tenth game, struggling on serve for the first time but repelling it with a volley winner to stay alive.
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 haven't 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.