It was as if he was never away. Roger Federer, competing in Rome for the first time since 12 May 2016, advanced in straight sets Thursday to begin his return to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, the season's third and final clay-court ATP Masters 1000 event.
The Swiss broke three times to beat Portugal's Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-3 and please the thousands of fans inside Campo Centrale who had waited three years, three days – and a soaked Wednesday – to see the 28-time Masters 1000 champion return to the Eternal City. Federer, along with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, was scheduled to play on Wednesday but a complete washout pushed back his opening match to Thursday.
The Swiss was sliding around the red dirt in Rome, comfortably hitting forehand winners and drop shots, including when he broke Sousa in the seventh game of the opener. The four-time Rome finalist carried his momentum into the second set, breaking to start and again in the ninth game. Federer saved all seven break points he faced.
The third seed will next face Croatian Borna Coric later Thursday in what will be their sixth FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting and second of the season. Federer leads the series 3-2, which includes his Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships semi-final victory in February.
Coric is one of only four players who had reached the third round before Wednesday's washout. The Croatian beat Brit Cameron Norrie 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday evening.
View The Rome Draw