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Beyond the Baseline

Roger Federer wins first match with new racket

Roger Federer Roger Federer used a bigger frame in his first-round victory. (Axel Heimken/EPA)

Armed with a new racket, Roger Federer defeated Daniel Brands 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday in his opening match at the German Tennis Championships.

Federer, playing his first match in Hamburg since 2008, debuted a 98-square-inch frame after using a 90-square-inch head to win 17 Grand Slam titles.

The 31-year-old Federer, who was seen practicing with the new stick before the tournament, looked tentative off the ground through a scratchy first set. Brands saved two break points at 3-3 and then broke the Swiss thanks to a backhand shank off Federer's black frame. Brands served out the set in their first career meeting.

Federer cleaned up his game immediately in the second set. He quickly built a 4-1 lead and finished the set without dropping a point on his first serve (17-for-17). From there, he improved off the ground and the winners flowed more freely. He broke Brands early in the third set and added one more to race away to victory at the ATP 500 clay-court tournament, which Federer added to his schedule after a second-round loss at Wimbledon. Federer served nine aces for the match.

“I’m pleased how it’s playing,” Federer said, referring to his new racket. “I kind of knew it from practice, so it wasn’t like just jumping into the water, but I'm very happy that under match conditions I was feeling comfortable with it. I’m satisfied.”

Here's a clip of the last few games of the match:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xnse-y5w5-4

The big-hitting Brands (who pushed Rafael Nadal to four sets at the French Open) isn't the type of opponent to give Federer any rhythm off the ground and engage in long rallies. But as the match progressed and Federer got more swings on the ball, his game seemed to click. With the way Federer worked the net and pushed Brands back with perfectly weighted lobs, by the end of the match you wouldn't have known he was playing with a new racket. Aside from some awkwardness on the backhand side -- it must feel so different to swing with a markedly larger head size on a one-handed backhand -- Federer looked great in the end.

“After I lost at Wimbledon, I thought this is a good time to go and test the rackets, to take a bit of time off and then add some tournaments and see was there enough time to change or not," he said. "I'm happy I did the change and now we'll see how it goes. So far, so good.”

Federer said losing early at Wimbledon gave him a longer block to experiment with rackets and make the change.

“I’ve been very close on numerous occasions to change rackets in a bigger way,” he said. “But then very often, time was the issue. Maybe also just the records of Grand Slams -- I was always keeping on playing quarters and semis -- so then it was also a bit more difficult to change it because of the time. This time around, all of a sudden I just had the extra 10 days, two weeks I was looking for, and I really was very serious about it. Wilson flew to Switzerland and we went through the whole process and I was very happy how things went over there.”

Next up for Federer is Jan Hajek, a qualifier ranked No. 140. Hajek upset Ernests Gulbis 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in the second round.
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