A year away is a long time in tennis – just ask returning hero Roger Federer.
The 20-time Grand Slam idol marked his return after 405 days without an ATP match on Wednesday defeating Brit Dan Evans 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-5 to reach the quarter-finals in Doha.
Federer’s last ATP contest – a 2020 Australian Open semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic – occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the sport into a five-month shutdown and re-wrote some procedures.
As he rehabbed from a pair of right knee operations, the 39-year-old was all but unaware of some changes on court – but he started filling in his knowledge gap with his win over Evans lasting for nearly two and a half hours.
For starters, ballkids no longer double as towel-fetchers during the heat of competition:
Players now have to grab and use their own from designated storage boxes at each end of the court.
The last time the Swiss played, a hand simple gesture or nod was enough to get a ball boy or girl scampering over with a sweaty towel.
While Federer traditionally goes to the towel judiciously, he still needed to get used to the now normal.
“Straight away, I forgot to take the towel,” he said. “The shot clock (countdown to serve) is also not embedded in my system.
“I’ve played for too long without it.”
The new reduced-time pre-match warmup also caught the veteran out.
“I forgot the warmup is now four minutes, I also had to keep looking at the scoreboard to make sure on the change of ends.”
The Swiss explained that he had a lot on his mind as he moved into competition after such a long absence.
“I was thinking a lot about the match, I tend to forget a lot of things.
“I even asked for the towel, forgetting they can’t bring it to me anymore (health reasons).
“It feels as if I’ve been away for longer than I have been.”