SUNDAY TIMES WEB DESK: All Roger Federer had to do was strike a few silky forehands in his first practice session at Roland Garros for four years to create something of a social media frenzy this week.
Ever since the 37-year-old announced he was ending his self-imposed French Open exile, anticipation has been growing and video footage of his gentle warmup on Tuesday sent his legions of fans into a frenzy.
It is 10 years since Federer claimed his one and only title on the Parisian dirt — completing his career slam with victory over Swede Robin Soderling.
He opted to skip the French Open for the past three years — a decision based on prolonging his career — but a decade after lifting La Coupe des Mousquetaires he returns not just for old time’s sake, but because the Swiss must truly believe he has a chance of a 21st Grand Slam title.
Federer showed enough in a quarter-final run in Madrid — his first claycourt tournament for three years — that he had not forgotten how to slide with the best of them.
He also won a couple of rounds in Rome last week before withdrawing ahead of his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas citing a minor injury concern.
Federer will step into a new look Roland Garros this year and admits it has been hard to be away.
Asked why he returned in an interview with French TV channel he explained: “What made me decide to come back to Roland-Garros? In the end, it’s envy,” he said.
“I like slipping, cushioning, riding at odds, playing with angles and to see the fans I have not seen here.”