PARIS -- Roger Federer entered a refurbished Court Philippe Chatrier for his first French Open match since 2015, greeted by the sun peeking through the clouds and the full-throated support of spectators in their designer sunglasses, straw hats and sweaters tied over their shoulders.
Were it permitted, perhaps some ticket holders would have embraced Federer right then and there, delivering a kiss on each cheek, as if reunited with an old friend at a sidewalk cafe.
Alas, the welcome was limited to wild applause and enthusiastic chants of his first name -- "Roh-zher! Roh-zher!" -- before and during a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory against Lorenzo Sonego of Italy on Sunday. The match lasted a mere 101 minutes, yet Federer found enough time and space to sprinkle in some tremendous shot-making.
"The reception I got today was crazy. Was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this," Federer said, comparing the atmosphere to that of a final.
"I feel that the public missed me. And I missed them, as well."
Federer, the owner of 20 Grand Slam titles, will turn 38 in August and, frankly, who knows how many more of these he has left?
"Not getting any younger," he noted.
Federer certainly appeared delighted to make his return to a tournament he won a decade ago -- when he completed a career Grand Slam -- but sat out each of the past three years. In 2016, he was sidelined by a back problem, ending his then-record streak of 65 consecutive appearances at majors. Federer then skipped the entire clay-court circuit in each of the past two seasons to focus on preparing for grass and hard courts.
Not since a quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka four years ago had Federer competed at Roland Garros, which is why he described himself Sunday as "quite tense at the start."
Didn't seem that way, though. More like someone who never went away. He led the 73rd-ranked Sonego, who was making his French Open debut, 4-0 after less than 15 minutes, then went up a set and 4-0 in the second after 40.
"There are times when you recognize that he makes the difficult things look easy. It's incredible," Sonego said. "All you can do is hope he messes up now and then, because otherwise, it's really hard."
Federer gave the folks what they wanted, providing a live-and-in-person highlight reel of his full and considerable repertoire. There was the ace at 121 mph to begin his first service game, and the ace at 110 mph to conclude it. The drop-volley winner on the run. The serve-and-volley putaway. The sprint for an up-the-line winner off a delicate drop shot by Sonego that was so good, and so apparently hard to reach, that a fan gushed, "Bravo! Bravo!" in praise of Sonego before Federer got to the ball.
"In the important moments, he raises his level and turns into a computer," Sonego said. "He never makes the wrong choice."
Really, the lone blip for Federer came when he double-faulted to get broken for the only time, eliciting an admonishing slap of racket strings from him -- and a collective "Awwwww" of dismay from his thousands of admirers. That was part of a three-game, dozen-minute surge for Sonego, who got within 4-3 in the second set before ceding it.
By the end, Federer had won the point on 25 of 30 trips to the net and put together a ratio of 36 winners to 15 unforced errors.
"It's nice to be an outsider," he said with an almost imperceptible shrug. "That's how I feel, anyhow. Just see how it goes, you know. ... This is not a show I'm putting on; this is the truth: I really don't know how far I can go in this event."
"I missed you; thanks very much for the welcome," Federer said to the crowd after concluding his match. "I was quite tense at the start."
In other news, French Open organizers said American player Sam Querrey has withdrawn from the tournament. Querrey, who was set to take on Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez in the first round, has been replaced in the main draw by lucky loser Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland. A Wimbledon semifinalist in 2017, the 62nd-ranked Querrey cited an abdominal problem as the reason for his withdrawal
Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime also pulled out of the French Open because of an injury. Organizers said the No. 25-seeded player has pain in his left abductor muscle and will be replaced in the main draw by Spanish lucky loser Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Auger-Aliassime is ranked a career-high 28th and reached the Lyon Open final this week.
Among other seeded players in action Sunday, No. 11-seeded Cilic of Croatia defeated Thomas Fabbiano of Italy 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.
A year after upsetting Djokovic in a stunning run to the semifinals, Marco Cecchinato is out after the first round. French wild card Nicolas Mahut came back from two sets down in a 2-6, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over the 16th-seeded Italian.
It was the first men's match on the new Court Simonne Mathieu, and Mahut seemed to thrive off the support from the home fans.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.