MONTREAL — Roger Federer returned to the court just in time to say goodbye to an old friend and opponent — Canada’s Frederic Niemeyer.
The world No. 1 from Switzerland, who took time off after his victory at Wimbledon in June while his wife gave birth to twin girls, took a set to find his range and then put away the low-ranked Canadian 7-6 (3), 6-4 in second round at Uniprix Stadium on Tuesday night.
He then stepped aside to let Niemeyer bask in the applause from the full house of 11,490 on centre court for the Deauville, Que., resident’s last match at his home tournament.
Niemeyer, 33, who is to retire at the end of this season, first played Federer in a small tournament 11 years ago in Switzerland and since then the two have got together to hit balls or chat whenever they meet up.
”’He’s a nice man,” said Federer. ”It’s sad when you leave the game, but he seems happy with himself, so I wish him well.
”We played each other in a satellite in front of two people. It was snowing outside. And 11 years later we’re playing in front of a packed house here in Montreal.”
The crowd seemed equally pleased to see Federer back in action. There had been doubt that he would return this week, but he said he talked it over with his wife and they decided to come to North American for the Rogers Cup and the rest of the lead-up to the last grand slam event of the year — the U.S. Open that begins Aug. 31 in New York.
”It al depended on Mirka, if she wanted to make the trip or not,” he said. ”We went day-to-day and then she said ‘all right’. We’ll be together a long time in North America and that’s what she wanted and that’s what I wanted.”
Niemeyer and fellow Canadian Peter Polansky both put up a good showing against a top player.
Spurred by the crowd, Thornhill, Ont., native Polansky shot off to a 3-0 lead in the first set before Serbian star Novak Djokovic bounced back for a 6-4, 7-6 (6) victory.
Niemeyer, whose ranking has tumbled to 487th, was hurt by a double fault in the first-set tiebreaker, and he was at 3-3 in the second set when his serve deserted him and Federer was able to break and then serve out the match.
”The atmosphere was unbelievable,” said Niemeyer. ”It’s my last match here and I was able to play the way I’m capable of playing. Too bad it was my last one, but I have no regrets. I just enjoyed the moment.”
Federer said Niemeyer gave him trouble with his serve, which made it difficult to establish a rhythm in his game.
”After five or six weeks of not playing matches, just practice matches, you’re a little slow on the returns,” Federer said.
The 21-year-old Polansky is ranked 225th in the world to Djokovic’s fourth, but used a sharp serve and strong forehand shots to give his gifted opponent from Serbia a battle.
”At times I played really well and I was able to compete with him and at times there were just a few too many mistakes,” said Polansky. ”That showed why I was the weaker player out there.
”But overall, I competed well. It was a great experience playing well with such a big crowd, especially in Canada.”
Leading 4-3 in the second set, Polansky let slip away a break point when he hit long ball during a rally, hit into the net and then saw Djokovic even the set with a perfectly placed drop shot.
Polansky held service twice more and forced a tiebreaker, where despite a double fault he fought off one match point and took it to 6-6 before Djokovic prevailed with a service winner.
Polansky — Canada’s No. 2 player behind Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., — won a match at the Rogers Cup for the first time when he downed Bruno Agostinelli of Niagara Falls in the first round on Monday.
Other top players were also shaking off rust. No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, will play his first singles match since the French Open in May on Wednesday night against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. Nadal has been battling tendinitis in both knees. He and coach Francisco Roeg lost their doubles match on Tuesday.
And third-seeded Andy Murray also had to shake off rust in his 6-4, 6-2 victory over Jeremy Chardy of France. He had not played since losing to Andy Roddick in the semifinals at Wimbledon in early July.
One seed fell, as No. 16 Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic was beaten 6-3, 6-4 by Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan.
Earlier Tuesday, Ferrero defeated Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-4 in a battle of former No. 1 players.
In other first round matches, Tommy Robredo of Spain defeated American Alex Bogomolov 6-4, 6-2; Fernando Verdasco beat fellow Madrid native Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-1; Victor Hanescu of Romania beat Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-4, 6-3 and qualifier John Isner beat Ottawa-born American Jesse Levine 6-3, 6-4.