Federer makes surprise decision
ROGER Federer's comeback on clay will feature a return to the Madrid Open for the first time since 2015, it was confirmed on Wednesday.
For the last two years, the 37-year-old has chosen to skip the clay-court season completely to give his body a rest and preserve energy for tournaments on his preferred surfaces of grass and hardcourt.
But Federer is taking a different approach in 2019 after he indicated in January he would consider playing at the French Open this year, while the Madrid Open has announced he will be among those competing at the Caja Magica too.
"Federer is one of the best players in history, it's no secret," said Feliciano Lopez, the Madrid Open's tournament director.
"We are happy because his return to Madrid is a gift for the tournament but above all for the fans, because they will be able to see a player that is unique and unparalleled."
Federer has won the Madrid Open three times, in 2006, 2009 and 2012, but his last appearance was in 2015, when he lost his opening match to Nick Kyrgios.
The 20-time grand slam champion was beaten in the fourth round at the Australian Open in January, one year after he had claimed his last major title there.
Clay has been Federer's least favourite surface. He has won the French Open only once and not gone past the quarter-finals in Paris since 2012.
"I am in a moment where I want to have fun," Federer said, when asked last month about returning to Roland Garros. "It's a personal desire. I feel like I don't need to take a big break again."
TOP SEEDS TUMBLE IN RIO
Top seeds Dominic Thiem of Austria, and Italy's Fabio Fognini and Marco Cecchinato were ousted in the first round of the Rio Open clay-court tournament on Wednesay.
No. 1-seeded Thiem lost to Serbia's Laslo Dere 6-3 6-3, while the second-seeded Fognini was defeated by Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime 6-2 6-3.
Third-seeded Cecchinato, who won the Argentina Open on Sunday, was also eliminated by Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene 7-5 7-6 (7-1).
Fifth-seeded Joao Sousa of Portugal defeated Argentina's Guido Pella 6-4 3-6 6-4. Dusan Lajovic, the No. 6 seed, lost to Britain's Cameron Norrie 6-2 6-1.
Argentina's Diego Schwartzman, who is the fourth seed and defending champion, had his match suspended by rain.
TOUGH ROAD TO DUBAI QUARTERS
Former winners Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep battled through brisk desert winds to advance into the quarter-finals of the Dubai Championships on Wednesday.
Second seed Kvitova outlasted American qualifier Jennifer Brady 7-5 1-6 6-3. Crowd favourite and third seed Halep coped with the gusty conditions the Aviation Club as she beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-3 7-5, breaking seven times.
Ukraine's Tsurenko managed just a single point over the last three games as former World No. 1 Halep demonstrated her superiority by taking a 7-0 lead in their head-to-head record.
Fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova was tested by Alison Riske, with the Czech taking more than two hours to produce a 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-5) victory.
The 2015 finalist won a monster game late in the second set, holding for 5-5 after seven deuces plus two set points for her American opponent.
Pliskova broke a game later but dropped serve herself to force a tiebreaker; the decider ended on a first match point after Riske double-faulted.
Fifth seed Angelique Kerber, a semi-finalist on her last two appearances here, lost to Hsieh Su-Wei 5-7, 6-4, 6-0.
The German former World No. 1 dropped serve seven times in the one-and-three-quarter hour contest.
Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro made quick work of Kristina Mladenovic, surprise conqueror of Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, sending the Dubai-based Frenchwoman out 7-5 7-5.
Suarez Navarro started on the back foot but rallied to overcome a 5-1 deficit in the first set on the way to victory.