“Most of the players like conventional rallies: Most players manage to hit their first serve, forehand and backhand very hard,” Federer said. “So the question is, do I want to do this and make it easy for them, or do I play differently, because I can, and make them more uncomfortable, make it more difficult for them? That’s very often the case. It’s fun for me to hit a drop shot or a passing shot, but it doesn’t mean I’m trying to avoid the fight.”
There were a few shanked forehands from Federer, a few miscalculated passing shots after he lured the 73rd-ranked Sonego to net. But in general, Federer looked sharp and quick, and he will need to continue to be if he is to go deep in this French Open.
For now, he is still reacquainting himself with one of his old haunts, just as the fans were on Sunday as they discovered the new Simonne-Mathieu Court in the nearby botanical gardens or examined the new-look Chatrier court with its pale wooden seats, rounded corners and more subtle and uniform color scheme.
“I think it was helpful that the stadium was full, so you don’t see the sort of beige seats,” Federer said. “I feel like when it’s not full, you feel like it’s a completely different stadium.”
It is higher and wider than before, and it is not yet finished. A retractable roof won’t be in place until next year, and the tier of corporate suites with their long glass windows have not yet been put into service.
But Federer, even in the face of the unfamiliar, is in full working order. He had never played Sonego. Nor has he played Oscar Otte, who will be Federer’s second-round opponent. Nor has he played either of his possible third-round opponents: Matteo Berrettini of Italy or Casper Ruud, the 20-year-old Norwegian whose father, Christian, was in the draw in 1999 when Federer played his first French Open.
At least the surname will ring a bell.