PARIS — Roger Federer entered a refurbished Court Philippe Chatrier for his first French Open match since 2015, greeted by the sun peeking through the clouds and the full-throated support of spectators in their designer sunglasses, straw hats and sweaters tied over their shoulders.
Were it permitted, perhaps some ticket-holders would have embraced Federer right then and there, delivering a kiss on each cheek, as if reunited with an old friend at a sidewalk cafe.
Alas, the welcome was limited to wild applause and enthusiastic chants of his first name — "Roh-zher! Roh-zher!" — before and during a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory against Lorenzo Sonego of Italy on Sunday. The match lasted a mere 101 minutes yet Federer found enough time and space to sprinkle in some tremendous shot-making.
"The reception I got today was crazy. Was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this," Federer said, comparing the atmosphere to that of a final.
"I feel," he said, "that the public missed me. And I missed them, as well."
His presence at the year’s second Grand Slam tournament was the highlight of Day 1, which included losses by multiple major winners Venus Williams, Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova, along with victories for Sloane Stephens, Garbine Muguruza, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori.
Kerber has been dealing with an injured foot and was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by Anastasia Potapova. That was the opening match in the largely rebuilt main stadium, a structure of concrete and glass that is expected to have a retractable roof by the 2020 French Open and now features padded beige seats instead of plastic green ones.
Across the way, 2016 champion Muguruza inaugurated the new 5,290-seat Court Simonne Mathieu, which is surrounded by greenhouses displaying tropical plants, with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Taylor Townsend of the U.S.
Later in that same spot, the 38-year-old Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam titlist and the 2002 runner-up in Paris, exited in the first round for the fourth time in the past seven years at Roland Garros. She was broken in seven of her nine service games during a 6-3, 6-3 loss to No. 9 seed Elina Svitolina.
Federer, the owner of 20 Grand Slam titles, will turn 38 in August and, frankly, who knows how many more of these he has left?
"Not getting any younger," he noted.
The guy certainly appeared delighted to make his return to a tournament he won a decade ago, completing a career Grand Slam, but sat out each of the past three years. In 2016, he was sidelined by a back problem, ending his then-record streak of 65 consecutive appearances at majors. Federer then skipped the entire clay-court circuit in each of the past two seasons to focus on preparing for grass and hard courts.
Not since a quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka four years ago had Federer competed at Roland Garros, which is why he described himself Sunday as "quite tense at the start."