PARIS (Reuters) - Roger Federer reckoned that he felt the love of the French public sweep over him when made a long-awaited return to competitive action in Paris on Thursday to launch his bid for a 100th career title.
Federer, who has not competed in Paris at either the French Open or indoor Masters since 2015, received a standing ovation after making a winning comeback in Bercy following his late decision to compete after his 99th triumph in Basel on Sunday.
Before and after defeating Fabio Fognini 6-4 6-3 to move into the quarter-finals, the 37-year-old looked touched by the reception in the arena and responded by "saluting" them in a post-match on-court address.
"I hope you have understood that the French public missed you very much," one reporter told him after his hit-and-miss but eventually comfortable win, to which Federer responded: "It was wonderful to have such a welcome from the French public.
"The standing ovation at the end was wonderful as well. I wanted to thank them, to salute them. It was something that is important to me. I did win, so I had the mike, I could talk to the public.
"I've had very intense moments at the French Open (where he won in 2009) and here (where he won the 2011 Masters). Everybody knows that I'm very pleased to do my comeback here, but it is also hard to prove it on the court."
Federer, who has taken both the clay grind at Roland-Garros and the awkwardly-timed Bercy indoor event off his truncated playing schedule recently, had originally been scheduled to return on Wednesday.
Yet his opponent, Milos Raonic, pulled out because of injury, leaving Federer to think that it had actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"It gave me an extra day of rest which I needed, because one shouldn't have too many matches in a row," he said, adding that he had enjoyed "a massage and a nice dinner" instead of playing.
He said he was trying to play in Paris without pressure and that his major concern was regaining the ATP World Tour title in London later this month.
"If it turns out well (this week), good. If it doesn't, well, too bad. I tried. It's good to play in a relaxed manner for once, to find something in my game that could help me out for London," he said.
"My objective is London. If I can do well here in Paris and beat him (Novak Djokovic), all the better. But I'm not there yet. We'll just wait and see."
(Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Pritha Sarkar)