403 days on, Roger Federer again

Doha: There was plenty, to be sure, that was unfamiliar to Roger Federer in his first competitive match in more than a year. Can’t hand your towel to a ball person in the pandemic era. Get ready to serve 25 seconds after the previous point ended. Warmups are cut down to four minutes. And so on. “It feels,” Federer said after beating world No. 28th Dan Evans 7-6(8) 3-6 7-5 at the Qatar Open on Wednesday, “like I have been away for even longer than I actually have been.”

What the 20-time Grand Slam champion discovered did not change one bit after all of that time away from tournaments, an absence brought about by two operations on his right knee: He still feels tension and excitement before he plays. He still knows which shots to try, and when. He still can rise to the occasion when the chips are down.

Yes, Federer acknowledged he was a tad tired by the end of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour victory over Evans. And yes, Federer did win with the help of 13 aces and a service break — the only one he managed — in the very last game. What matters far more in the scheme of things than the result or the way it came about is that he cares about success and can conjure up what’s necessary to find it. AP/PTI

After Barca’s exit, fans fear losing Messi

Barcelona: A friendly chat with Kylian Mbappe. A quick hug with Mauricio Pochettino. A kiss on the forehead from Angel Di Maria. The signs were all there at Parc des Princes for paranoid Barcelona fans who fear Lionel Messi will follow the path of Neymar and bolt for Paris Saint-Germain once the season ends. Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman, however, is confident that he has done all he can to convince Messi to continue his career with the Spanish club, despite another disappointing Champions League campaign. “Leo has to decide his future, nobody can help him do that, (but) I think that he has seen for some time now that this team is on the right track and has a future. I don’t think that he can use that as a reason not to stay,” Koeman said after the 1-1 draw at PSG eliminated Barcelona from the competition.

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