DOHA, Qatar — After more than a year out, Roger Federer started his 24th season on tour with a win.
It was far from easy for the former No. 1, though, as he was pushed hard by Dan Evans at the Qatar Open before winning the second-round match 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-5 on Wednesday.
It was Federer's first match in 405 days after having knee surgery following the 2020 Australian Open.
"Feels good to be back,'' Federer said in an on-court interview. "I'm happy to be standing here regardless of if I won or lost. But obviously winning feels better.''
Playing for nearly 2 1/2 hours tested the 39-year-old Swiss player's stamina following his long break. Federer saved a set point at 6-5 down in the first-set tiebreaker and saved two break points at 3-3 in the deciding set before sealing the win with a break of Evans' serve.
He showed flashes of his usual brilliance along the way, clinching the first set with a perfect cross-court backhand winner as Evans charged into the net. Having failed to convert a match point at 5-4 in the decider, he used another backhand down the line to clinch the win on his second attempt.
Federer said he used Evans as a training partner as he prepared for his comeback, playing more than 20 sets against the Briton in the previous weeks.
"It has been a long and tough road for me. I enjoyed it though,'' the 20-time Grand Slam champion said. "It has been a huge challenge of mine in my tennis career and to come back at my age is not something that is very simple.''
Federer will play Nikoloz Basilashvili in the quarterfinals after the Georgian beat Malek Jaziri 6-2, 6-2.
Top-seeded Dominic Thiem rallied to beat Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 for a place in the quarters.
Thiem's next opponent is fifth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, who didn't face a single break point in his 6-4, 6-3 win against Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan.
Third-seeded Andrey Rublev advanced without taking to the court after his opponent Richard Gasquet withdrew with a leg injury.
Denis Shapovalov won an all-Canadian match against Vasek Pospisil 7-5, 6-4. That sets up a quarterfinal against Taylor Fritz of the U.S., who upset sixth-seeded David Goffin 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (9). Fritz saved a match point at 6-5 down in the decider and twice more in the tiebreaker.