After three years away, the Roger Federer
show is back in town, and if the Swiss is pleased to be back in Paris, Paris is ecstatic to have him back.
The 37-year-old walked out to a standing ovation and chants of 'Roger…Roger…Roger'. As he warmed up, every stroke was greeted with 'allez'. He won the first point of the match with a lucky net cord, which was greeted with the rich applause that would normally accompany a winner.
Federer proceeded to put on a show for his adoring fans, slicing and dicing Italian world No 73 Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of the French Open
The 24-year-old Sonego is no slouch, especially on this surface. Of the 10 finals he has made - all below ATP Tour level - eight have been on the red dirt. He has begun to emerge from the secondary Challenger Tour this year, making the quarter-finals of a Masters event for the first time.
But Sonego was not going to be allowed to ruin Federer's Parisian homecoming, his return to the place where he made his Grand Slam debut 20 years ago and his return after three years in which he did not trust his body to put up with the rigours of clay court tennis.
It has been easy to forget during his absence how good a clay court player Federer is. He slides beautifully, defends well and knows how to draw his opponents forward when they are camped out behind the baseline.
Having said that, expectations should be tempered for this event. Federer's draw is not the best and if he makes it through to face Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals that would be considered a good result.
Although really, playing here in Paris is a result in itself. Getting his body healthy enough to play a clay court season should stand him in good stead for the rest of the year. Having skipped this part of the tour last year he looked undercooked thereafter, subsiding to Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon and then wilting in the New York heat.
There is no surface like clay to build fitness and Federer should find himself in peak condition heading into Wimbledon.
He clearly loves playing here, at the major closest to his home town of Basel, and he was certainly having fun against Sonego, reeling off the first four games of the match.
At 4-0 down the Italian tried a drop shot, and hit it well, too. Nicely disguised, short, it was a shot no 37-year-old has any right to get to. But time seemed to wait for Federer as he rushed forward, picking the ball almost off the clay and sending it on to the outside of the line - the only place Sonego could not reach it.
Despite that the Italian got on the board with a hold of serve which was greeted by rather patronising cheers from the crowd.
Federer broke in the first game of the second set with one of his many trademark shots: the drop shot return of serve, a knifing backhand imbued with vicious backspin.
From a set and 4-0 down Sonego staged something of a rearguard. Muscular forehand winners were accompanied by guttural roars and he began to play to the crowd a little, urging them to support the underdog, as well as the top dog.
He got it back to 4-3 but Federer reasserted control. The third set was a tighter affair but Federer broke at 4-4 and served out.
This win earned him a date with lucky loser Oscar Otte, the world No 145. From there his draw becomes more difficult. Clay court specialists Marco Berrettini, Casper Ruud and Diego Schwartzman lurk nearby. Make it through that lot and he could face Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek phenom who beat him in Australia in January.
But Federer is not looking too far ahead. He is just happy to be back where it all began 20 years ago.