Roger Federer has not competed since the 2020 Australian Open. But the element of surprise will be out the window for his first match back on Wednesday at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. The three-time Doha champion will play frequent practice partner Daniel Evans in the second round.
“We obviously practised for [the] past two weeks [in Dubai], and I thought he was playing pretty well. We played plenty of sets. It was competitive. But it’s all very different when you get on the match court,” Evans said. “It will be a lot different tomorrow. It’s going to be at night, as well, so a little slower. So we’ll see how the match goes.”
It wasn’t the first time Evans has trained with the 103-time tour-level titlist. As always, the Brit had nothing but positive things to say about the experience.
“It’s obvious to say he works hard. Some days we practised for three hours. Other days we practised for an hour and a half. It’s been just like most tennis players, really,” Evans said. “Obviously the level is a lot higher than most, but it’s been good to get some good practise in.
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Evans needed three sets to defeat Jeremy Chardy on Tuesday. There was a special guest in the stands on Centre Court at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex: Federer.
“He obviously has seen a lot of my game the past few weeks, so I guess I would say it was more out of boredom,” Evans said, cracking a laugh. “He’s probably [was] waiting for his practice [more] than scouting out what’s happening on the court. Let’s put it down to that.”
Federer leads the pair’s ATP Head2Head series 3-0, with the Swiss winning all nine sets they have played. In the past, Evans has pointed to Federer having “every shot” in his arsenal, something the Brit further explained before their fourth clash.
“It’s more the variation. You’re not sure what’s going to come next, different spins, different pace. You definitely sometimes second-guess yourself. He obviously moves very well. So that would be the biggest thing,” Evans said. “I feel like I deal with variation pretty well, and I do feel a bit flustered when practising different things [against him]. I’m sure for the more robotic players out there it’s not ideal with a hell of a lot of variation he’s got.”
Will training with Federer so recently help Evans when they compete for a spot in the quarter-finals? According to the Brit, one of them will have an advantage.
“I think it’s tougher for me by a long stretch. But no, it has been nice to see his game. Obviously it does help I have been able to see it, but it’s still going to be a difficult task,” Evans said. “He looked fit when I practised with him. If he’s fully fit, it’s definitely going to be tough. As well, I should enjoy the occasion.”
Although Federer has not played in 14 months, Evans is expecting a difficult test against the Swiss. But the 30-year-old will challenge Federer, too. He is playing some of the best tennis of his career. In January, Evans claimed his first ATP Tour title at the Murray River Open without losing a set. In February, he reached a career-high No. 26 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“I’d say I’m definitely a lot better now [than when we last played at the 2019 US Open]. I feel more comfortable. In that sense, obviously he’s not played so much. It will be a little different for him tomorrow, as well. Probably my better chance to get some good tennis out there and trouble him,” Evans said. “I’ll go out there and enjoy it and see what happens. There’s no drama if it goes wrong tomorrow. If I win, it would be great.”