As Roger Federer can attest, the first round of majors are as simple as survive and advance. Between adapting to court conditions and handling opening jitters, style points and form evaluation are best left to later rounds.
Setting a men’s record with his 71st Grand Slam appearance (breaking a tie with Fabrice Santoro), Federer hung on to win his return to the U.S. Open, as well as his first match ever under the roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The roof debuted in 2016, which Federer missed while rehabbing his knee.
Federer staved off 19-year-old American prospect Frances Tiafoe in five turbulent sets, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4. The Swiss star’s back was the big question of the men’s draw coming in, and those questions remain as his movement wasn’t at its normal level. That said, his serving was better than in his loss in the Montreal final to Alexander Zverev, where his problems were quite apparent. Federer then withdrew from Cincinnati the next week.
Federer seemed to be cruising both after the third set and after going up a break in the fifth, only for the explosive Tiafoe to fight his way back. Tiafoe even saved match point to break a wobbly Federer in the fifth, but his youth showed in getting broken in the next game to lose the match.
The match marked only the second time in the last 15 years that Federer was pushed to five sets in a Slam opener, and the first since Wimbledon 2010.
With rain postponing most outer court matches, Federer and Rafael Nadal were the only men to advance on Day 2 in New York, as their stature gave them the advantage of playing on the only court with a roof.
Nadal was scratchy as well against Dusan Lajovic, but managed to escape the first set in a tiebreaker. From there, Nadal was better, if inconsistent, while Lajovic’s level dropped in a 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-2 win for the top seed.