Roger Federer returned to grand slam tennis with a rout typical of the Swiss great as he breezed past Denis Istomin in the French Open first round.
Even at the age of 39, and with his 40th birthday coming up in August, Federer is capable of brutally dismantling inferior opponents on the big stage, and a 6-2 6-4 6-3 win took just an hour and 33 minutes.
It was every bit the masterclass that such a scoreline suggests, although far more strenuous tests await Federer in Paris. The outcome means he has not dropped a set in round one at Roland Garros since 2003, when he was beaten by Peruvian Luis Horna.
Expectations are different of him this year after knee surgery, with Federer drawn in the same half of the draw as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic but widely regarded as being a major outsider, having not featured at any grand slam since losing to Djokovic in the 2020 Australian Open semi-finals. He has barely played since then, winning just one match until this demolition.
A French Open champion in 2009 and four times a runner-up, Federer has not made clay a priority in his schedule over recent years and has been absent for four of the last five editions of this tournament.
That did not mean there was a lukewarm reception for him on Court Philippe-Chatrier, however, with the 20-time major winner instead greeted enthusiastically.
This was an eighth career clash between Federer and his Uzbek opponent, and a third in the first round of a slam. The aggregate set score in those three clashes is now 9-0 to Federer, Istomin unable to find a way into such matches, with this loss following Australian Open pastings in 2006 and 2019 – their one-sided rivalry going back a long way.
He has never lost to 34-year-old Istomin, who served two double faults in his opening service game here and was broken immediately, Federer striking again in game seven before serving out to take the first set against the qualifier in 22 minutes, having served six aces and landed 95 per cent of his first serves.
Rusty? Far from it, so it seemed.
Istomin, in glasses and a headband, was helped by that first-serve percentage coming down to 57 in the second set, but Federer's overall play stayed at a high level. Victory was his when Istomin paddled an attempted drop shot into the net.
DATA SLAM: Federer in fine fettle
Federer won five of 13 break-point opportunities across the contest, while Istomin did not have a single chance against the world number eight's serve. Federer's winners-to-unforced-errors ratio of 48:20 also spoke volumes of his performance, a fortnight on from losing to Pablo Andujar in his opening match in Geneva.
The surprise Andujar defeat was given some context on Sunday when the Spaniard sank the Roland Garros hopes of fourth seed Dominic Thiem.
Federer – 48/20
Istomin – 18/14
Federer – 8/0
Istomin – 3/4
BREAK POINTS WON
Federer - 5/13
Istomin - 0/0