Roger Federer began his chase for tour-level title No. 100 yesterday at the Dubai Tennis Championships, defeating German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. The Swiss now leads Kohlschreiber 14-0 in their ATP Head2Head series. But the 37-year-old’s first match since his loss in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Stefanos Tsitsipas was not easy. While Federer looked in control early, breaking in the first game of the match and using that advantage to storm through the first set in 30 minutes, he was forced into a third set against Kohlschreiber for just the third time at an ATP Tour event.
Ultimately, Federer forced an error with a strong cross-court forehand to break in his first return game of the decider and he held on to emerge victorious after one hour and 36 minutes. Federer has only lost his opening match at a tournament once in the past 20 months, with that defeat coming in Miami last year against Thanasi Kokkinakis. Seven-time Dubai champion Federer now holds a 49-6 record at the ATP 500 event. Early on, Federer dominated play with his first serve. He put Kohlschreiber on the back foot straight away, and only lost one first-serve point in the first set. But Kohlschreiber broke in his first return game of the second set, and began to put more pressure on the Swiss by placing his first-serve returns deeper in the court.
That helped Kohlschreiber push Federer back, giving the German more chances to dictate play and force the 99-time tour-level champion to defend. But the Swiss counter- punched well at the start of the third set to break Kohlschreiber and hold for 3-0, and Federer never looked back. While Kohlschreiber saved one break point at 1-4 with a beautifully angled backhand off of a drop volley, he could not avoid going down a double-break. Federer hit a backhand passing shot straight at Kohlschreiber on his next opportunity, forcing an error before holding to love to clinch his victory. The 6’1” right-hander is trying to become just the second player in the Open Era to lift 100 tour-level trophies (after Jimmy Connors, 109).
The second seed will next face Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who battled back to defeat qualifier Thomas Fabbiano 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Like with Kohlschreiber, Federer holds a lopsided ATP Head2Head series lead against Verdasco having triumphed in all six of their previous matches. The Swiss has won 13 of the 14 sets he has played against the 35-year-old left-hander, including a straight-sets victory in their most recent meeting, also in Dubai, four years ago. While Federer survived the first round in Dubai for the 13th time in his 14th appearance, two seeds were upset on the first day of action.
World No. 12 Karen Khachanov suffered his fourth first-round defeat of the season, as Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili ousted the fourth-seeded Russian 6-4, 6-1 in 70 minutes. Basilashvili has enjoyed plenty of success at ATP 500 tournaments, winning his first two ATP Tour titles at this level last season in Hamburg and Beijing. The World No. 19 will next face defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut or wild card Ramkumar Ramanathan.
German Jan-Len-nard Struff surprised seventh seed Milos Raoni c 6 - 4 , 5-7, 6-4. Raonich adanoverhead just a few feet from the net to save match point, but the former World No. 3 hit the smash down into the net. Struff will play for a spot in the quarter-finals against Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who beat Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 7-6(5).