STUTTGART, GERMANY - Roger Federer was made to battle after a losing first set as the Swiss star made his long-awaited return to tennis on Wednesday with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 defeat of Mischa Zverev at the Mercedes Cup.
The world No. 2 shook off the rust against his German opponent after a poor start, breaking twice in the second and third sets to earn victory in 93 minutes.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner, who exited in his opening match at the grass court season curtain-raiser a year ago to friend Tommy Haas, can displace Rafael Nadal from the world’s top ranking spot if he reaches Sunday’s final.
The 36-year-old finished to the cheers of a sold-out center court on a chilly day.
“I’m happy to have won a match after losing my last two (Indian Wells, Miami in March),” Federer said.
“This is a new start. I’m glad to have been able to win again, overcoming some difficult moments after being a set down. Mischa’s level dropped in the last two sets and that gave me a chance to win.”
Federer lost the first set to Zverev, older brother of world No. 3 Alexander Zverev, but quickly recovered to post his sixth win in as many meetings in the series.
The Swiss was playing his first match in nearly three months after skipping the spring clay court season for a second year in succession in order to fully concentrate on his grass preparation.
He is aiming to claim a record ninth Wimbledon title next month at the All England Club.
Federer finished off Zverev, whom he beat a year ago in the Wimbledon third round, on his first match point, a passing winner.
“Against a serve-volley player like Mischa, there is no rhythm, don’t even look for it,” Federer said.
“It’s more about concentration, being patient, staying positive and having good energy for the whole time — I had that.
“Now it’s good to have a day off to fund some rhythm for the next match.”
The top seed improved to 18-2 this season as he began the pursuit of his 98th career trophy.
In first round play, German Maximillian Merterer lined up as the first opponent for fourth seed Nick Kyrgios with a defeat of Croatian lucky loser Viktor Galovic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
In other tennis news, Magdalena Rybarikova’s Wimbledon preparations suffered a blow as the Slovakian was ousted by unseeded Belgian Mona Barthel in the second round of the Nature Valley Open in Nottingham, England on Wednesday.
The 29-year-old Rybarikova, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year, fell to a shock 3-6, 6-1, 5-7 defeat by Barthel, who will face either defending champion Donna Vekic or Belarusian Vera Lapko in the quarterfinals.
Third seed Naomi Osaka recorded a dominant 6-3, 6-2 win over Czech Republic’s Denisa Allertova in just over an hour to reach her first WTA quarterfinal on grass, where she will take on rising Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu.