French OpenGrand SlamsRoger Federer

Federer Outwits Istomin in French Open First Round

The Swiss cruised through 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in 1 hour and 33 minutes.

Roger Federer is back to winning ways at Roland Garros, breezing through his opening match 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 against qualifier, Denis Istomin.

Federer, making his nineteenth appearance at the French Open, hadn't played a Grand Slam match in 487 days, but he showed little signs of rust as he progressed in 1 hour and 33 minutes without facing a single breakpoint.

The Swiss will next play Marin Cilic, who defeated French wildcard Arthur Rinderknech in straight sets.

Quick Match Recap

federer istomin french open

Istomin won the toss and elected to serve. The Uzbek started with a double fault and a second quickly followed as Federer broke to fifteen, hitting a well-executed forehand drop shot to set up the breakpoint.

Federer consolidated the break and had more inroads in game three, as the spectacled Istomin appeared to be struggling with the sun and breezy conditions before he held for 1-2.

The 8th seed fired down a hold to fifteen for 3-1 and followed that with a love hold, exploiting Istomin's court position with another well-timed drop shot to lead 4-2.

Game six saw Federer fashion his second break point of the set, again using the drop shot to good effect, and he converted it for a 5-2 lead.

The Swiss had so far cruised on serve but gave Istomin a small window at 15-30 before firing down back to back aces en route to taking the set 6-2.

Federer had landed 95% of first serves and hit fifteen winners to win his first set at a Grand Slam in well over a year in just 24 minutes.

Into set two and Federer's change up with the short slice continued to cause Istomin problems as he slipped to 15-40, but he fired down a couple of big serves to make deuce. Another two breakpoints were erased as Istomin finally held for 1-0.

Federer then held to fifteen, using the forehand slice to outfox Istomin, who thought the drop shot was coming, only for Federer to hit it deeper as soon as Istomin began sprinting forward.

Another drop shot helped Federer create 0-40 in game three, and Istomin missed a routine open court forehand to drop serve.

Like set one, a hold to fifteen consolidated the break for 3-1. Federer soon found himself up 4-2 and then sealed the set 6-4, facing no issues on serve as he won 85% and 90% of points behind his first and second serve, respectively.

Istomin was able to buck the trend in set three by holding onto his opening service game for the first time to lead 1-0.

After an exchange of holds, Federer reeled off three good points in game five thanks to some net forays. That created 0-40, and while Istomin saved two of the breakpoints, a  ripped cross-court forehand converted the third breakpoint for Roger to lead 3-2.

Federer fired down a love hold for 4-2 and held two more break points in game seven, but Istomin kept himself in touching distance.

A hold to thirty put Federer up 5-3, and with Istomin serving to stay in the match, Federer jumped all over a tame second serve to set up two match points. Istomin faltered, playing a badly executed drop shot to give Federer his 71st career win at Roland Garros.

Match Stats

  Denis Istomin Roger Federer
Aces 3 8
Double Faults 4 0
1st Serve 61/87 (70%) 46/65 (71%)
1st Serve Points Won 36/61 (59%) 37/46 (80%)
2nd Serve Points Won 13/26 (50%) 15/19 (79%)
Net points won 6/14 (43%) 19/24 (79%)
Breakpoints won 0/0 (0%) 5/13 (38%)
Receiving points won 13/65 (20%) 38/87 (44%)
Winners 18 48
Unforced Errors 14 20
Total Points Won 62 90
Max Serve Speed 195 km/h (121 mph) 195 km/h (121 mph)
1st Serve Average Speed 178 km/h (110 mph) 172 km/h (106 mph)
2nd Serve Average Speed 144 km/h (89 mph) 147 km/h (91 mph)


Thoughts on the Match

fed smash

I just felt overall much clearer, much better. Clearly also maybe the type of opponent allowed me to have many different ways to win the point. I knew if I came to the net, that was an option. Hitting a drop shot was always an option. Taking the ball early was an option. I always had the chance, I feel, like going back, as well, if I had to, which I did in Geneva, which didn't work out, which now in hindsight was a mistake I think. But I always struggle early on with my returning a little bit on clay. Funny enough, you would think it's the easier surface to return. I don't mind the grass court and hardcourt returns, as I'm blocking it more than hitting it.

Then just a different opponent, as well. What else? I think getting used to tournament and match rhythm again, the whole thing with the towels there, the shot clock there, everything that goes with it. I don't know, I really felt like I didn't find the rhythm. I think the biggest difference for me was in Geneva, now looking back, is that I feel like you play a lot of points very quickly. I think that's what got me at the end. I rarely took the extra two, three, four, five seconds I usually take by getting the towel or waiting for the crowd, whatever the dynamics might be.

I felt today I really made a bigger effort of going more in swings and not going through it like in the practice, where you just go point for point, let's play a maximum amount of points. I sometimes have to tell myself, take a little bit of time, walk to the towel, do something different. Federer comparing his performance today to the one in Geneva

A very steady performance here from Roger, and he had the upper hand from the word go. The key was obviously the start, and with Istomin serving two double faults in the first game, that helped Fed get off to a trouble-free first set.

From there, he served great during that first set and looked comfortable throughout. Istomin has a decent serve and backhand, but Federer knew as soon as he got him moving around, he'd have the upper hand.

The drop shots, short slices, angles caused Istomin all sorts of problems as he chose to play deep behind the baseline. Once Federer knew he had plenty of options, he looked far more confident in his ability than in Geneva, and got the job done in routine fashion.

Final Thoughts

  • Didn't face deuce on serve once
  • Served well for the most part
  • Great feel on the drop shot
  • Tougher tests to come

Predictions vs Cilic

federer cilic maldives

Next up is fellow veteran Marin Cilic, who came through in straight sets to defeat Arthur Rinderknech. The Croat was a break down in the opening set but clinched it in a close tie break to prevail 7-6(6), 6-1, 6-2.

Federer leads the H2H 9-1, with only one of their meetings taking place on clay, so it's going to be an interesting match. 

In terms of experience, ability and past achievements, Cilic is by far the best player Roger has faced since his comeback in Doha. But in terms of form, Evans, Balisashvili, and Andujar have played better tennis over the last few months.

Federer also holds the edge mentally, given he's beaten Cilic in a couple of Grand Slam finals. Usually, he has too much variety for Marin, who gets into too many uncomfortable spots on the court. 

But I think it's a wide-open match with both capable of victory. The balls will suit Cilic's flatter game, and it does seem to be quite a firm surface, so he should be able to tee-off if he's allowed to set his feet. Federer will need to play similarly to today, using his short slice, drop shots to get on the front foot.

What did you guys think of his win vs Istomin? Predictions vs Cilic? Let me know in the comments.


Huge fan of Roger Federer. I watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or writing about tennis I play regularly myself and have a keen interest in tactics, equipment and technicalties of the sport.

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  1. First! Go Roger! Looking good. Served well, moved pretty well, and hit the ball pretty well, though Istomin never gave Roger much of a challenge.

    Cilic next!

    1. Fed stopped him really playing, he hit a few nice backhands and some well placed serves but once Fed got him moving forward he was like a fish out of water.

  2. Great start for Fed here, with some very impressive shots and good movement. Let’s hope he is able to keep it up physically and mentally for some matches to come. Go Fed.

  3. Very positive. His anticipation & overall court sense seemed improved. Interesting point in the quote you cited about needing to get used to the rhythm not only of the match play, but also of the overall non-match court dynamics. He just looked overall much more comfortable out there.

    Against Cilic – obviously part of it is which Cilic shows up. But just from Roger’s side, this is another step in getting into the rhythm of a tournament. Extra recovery time should help out, but it’s also different for him (as for everybody else) in that his family isn’t there, so his down time will be different. He looked much more secure & comfortable in his skin today than a couple of weeks ago; he’ll have to go farther & raise his level if he’s to continue, & it will be interesting to see if he’s at a point where he can do that.

  4. So happy to see something β€œnormal” – Roger just destroying an opponent in the early rounds.

    Cilic in round 2?

    The man can drop serious bombs that throttle the heck out of Roger.

    Count me nervous!

  5. How cool is Roger Federer?! He’s an artist, and after all he’s been through to get back to effortlessly breezing past his opponents, it’s so good to see. Go as far as you can Roger 😊

  6. Nice match, with some marvelous duels. Istomin only really dangerous very shortly, maybe because of Roger’s foxy smartness. Good for confidence

  7. Great match to watch for Fed fans, that’s for sure – no stress. It felt like he had more power on his forehand and serve. Istomin is not at the level he was a few years ago. The balls look very heavy , but the court firm.
    Glad Jonathan mentioned that deep forehand slice too, I really liked that shot. Looks like a drop shot, and from the baseline you have to run in, and then it goes behind you. I hope he mixes that in with drop shots all the time to keep people guessing.

    You never know, in 2019 I thought Federer would lose early but he somehow got to the semis. I thought that will happen ehre, but getting to the 4th would be a victory and enough readiness when the real tennis starts πŸ™‚

  8. Did you see his calves? That’s what I was expecting. Fed had always some strong calves but has upgraded them this year, looking now similar to Karatsev at this part of the body. Strong calves are a good make-up for weaker knees and give the ability to hit stronger.
    Kind of paradox – Nadal has rather tiny calves and the power of his shots must come from the upper-body.
    Should the meet each other, it will be calves against biceps πŸ˜‰

    1. I think quads are more important for the knees.

      Is there a good comparison pic of muscle mass? I saw one on Twitter but this was from a misleading angle and he had no socks on in the ‘skinny’ picture which makes a huge visual difference.

      1. Yeah, quads are most important to protect knees. But we can assume, knees are medically OK. They are weaker just because of age. If quads are strong enough, the right place to add muscle mass are just calves. The effect should be the ability to hit harder and not to overload knees.
        Comparison pic for muscle mass? There are more sophisticated tools to measure muscle mass, but I guess, nobody would publish such information πŸ˜‰
        BTW my prediction for today Fed 3:1. I give Marin the second set. In first Roger is too fresh and will not allow him to play his heavy and deep forehands and backhands. In the second Fed will need to recover and Marin will have the chance to come through with big serving and big hitting. Last two are Fed’s because Marin’s mentality was never strong and is now even weaker. He shoots out himself with double faults at 4:4 or 5:5.

  9. The Fedmeister is back in town. Good to see him today like this. So much different from Geneva. Very interesting insights/explanations provided by Fed in the on-court interview regarding the differences in his on court routines between Paris & Geneva…

      1. That’s what my “personal coach” was always telling me during practices. Never be in a rush between points πŸ™‚ Delpo walk is the masterclass here πŸ˜‰

  10. What a delight to experience. He looked well dressed, no more baggy shorts drooping down. Shirt with a good fit. He looked at home out there! So enjoyable to see.
    His analysis of the difference between RG and Geneva makes so much sense. He is the goat at that.
    So, we witnessed….goaterer, dropperer, servererer, overheaderer, slicerer, hotnesserer!

  11. Nice opener, Istomin not much oppo but Fed had to still play clean from his side and he did. Nice stats. Looked relaxed and at home .
    I expect a much tougher gig v Cilic but if his serving stats are similar to today then good platform to kick on from. The pace will be faster but I predict more net play from Fed to rush Marin into errors, and prevent him teeing off from the baseline. Allez!

  12. Roger looked really good today. But before we get too excited, we’ll have to see how he fares against Cilic.

    If he is able to win that in straights also, we can start to really get excited. If he wins somewhat comfortable in 4 sets, it would be nice.

    I can’t read much into this except that his serving and his movement and the variety of the shots was definitely there.

    Plus, that Andujar 5 set win over Thiem makes the Federer loss in Geneva that much more respectable.

    Anyway, let’s see.

    1. I would be surprised if Cilic can’t get a set from Federer but who knows, Marin not exactly been in good form lately either. Lack of crowd might help him a bit? As he can get a bit tight on big points, I’ve not seen if he is still bouncing the ball hundreds of times behind closed doors tbh.

  13. Lovely to see him back on court – clay, grass, whatever. And to see he still does the odd 60-odd-second service hold πŸ™‚ I couldn’t see the match live because we had a visitor (who left just about the time Roger won!), so I’ve only just caught up. Serve was generally good, movement looked fine, and he still plays those shots that virtually nobody else can. Nice πŸ™‚

    Not sure what to expect re Cilic, but hopefully he can win that one, too.

  14. Seeing Federer play like he did yesterday, I was thinking that, no matter how much talent he may have, it must have required an incredible amount of work for him to return to this tournament after injury and to produce play like this. At least for today, all is right with the world of tennis, something I think we all cherish.

  15. Hey all, yesterday I just came in time home to see from the end of the 2nd set. My God, so nice to see a Roger match where he is the master, where some of his shots make the crowd go “oh, ah and wow” and not to be SCARED that he will get broken, have a walkabout set, have matchpoints and not take them or have to be worried that he will lose πŸ™‚ It is SOOOO GOOD to see a Goat match that you can enjoy because you know he will win somehow and anyway πŸ™‚
    I have missed him sooo much, especially with a crowd.
    And what about his interview in French huh??? Goat-stuff πŸ™‚
    Love you Roger, to infinity and beyond, there will be no tennis without you and six more matches to go, taking it one point, one game, one set and one match at a time. Love you Roger, now lets get Cilic πŸ™‚

  16. Great to see Roger again playing like the way only he can. The opponent always makes a big difference on how much freedom they allow Roger to do his thing. So far it has been great. Cilic would be tougher and will be a longer match where more questions are asked. Just to see Roger is good enough. Hope we can see him well into the second week.

  17. This is so true. Federer testing the waters in the first set and he knew that drop shots was very effective for Istomin as he respond to it very slowly, then he just go for it and got the chance to try other shots. And I was like β€œyeah. Rog will put some ankle breaker drop shots to Istomin in this whole match.” It’s pretty good that he got that chance to test the power and balance on the clay court. It’s pretty crispy.

    This match was too good it’s scary.hahaha. Oh well I just want him on the court for a few years and I hope It will be a great match bet him and Cilic..

    Allez Roger!!!

  18. Can’t believe Popyrin didn’t win a set as I predicted, he had two set points on serve, a dreadful double fault and then an overhead that wouldn’t have been in on two courts lol.

  19. That was a good match.It’s such a joy satch him play again. It’s too soon to get excited but I hope he can keep playing like this.

  20. Off-topic, sorry πŸ™‚
    What is the right English expression (idiom) for something I could literally describe as “reaching with the left hand to the right ear” as a metaphor for say flying from London to New York via Beijing (no political relations ;)). Can someone help?
    Fed was finally playing Fed and will need to take care to not go to deep and have adequate rest before grass πŸ˜‰

      1. Hmmm, it’s hard for me to explain the meaning of the Polish idiom. It’s like you unnecessarily make things complicated, where there is an obvious simple way. Thanks for trying but I can hardly assess your suggestions πŸ™
        Don’t waste too much time, but maybe another try?
        Maybe the optimal equivalent for the Polish proverb doesn’t exist in English?
        I could find German equivalent, but it was not idiomatic, but rather literal.
        fed seems to start his new prime time, no?

      2. “Taking the scenic route” is probably the best idiom for this then. Or “going the long way around” or “Three right turns”

      3. Yes, Jon, I found your suggestion in an online-dictionary – it’s just this “going out of your way just to get somewhere else” – but maybe something more metaphoric?

      4. Thank you a lot, Jonathan. I’m happy with “taking the scenic route” πŸ™‚

  21. Not getting carried away with anything. Good to see fed back on court. Some tough matches ahead which will give us a clear idea about Fed’s gameplay and fitness levels. I just hope he does not try to throw the kitchen sink in the upcoming match. Fed must find ways to keep the match short. Thats the only way for him to be ready after 6 matches. Overall, this is a pretty good prep for Wimbledon. Fed still has Stuttgart and Halle in case he bombs out tomorrow. So far, his serve and BH slice is doing some damage. FH is just not there yet. Lets hope Fed plays into mighty form sooner than later.

  22. The fun returned to tennis
    When Fed took on Dennis

    And now its time for darin’
    When Fed takes on Marin

    1. An experimental jab that might make you 95% better at tennis, we don’t know for certain, and the side effects may kill you. But the benefits outweigh the risks 😁

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