Dubai - Roger Federer has crushed an old pal for the 16th successive time as he made an encouraging high-speed restart to the ATP World Tour after his Australian Open debacle.
The Grand Slam record-holder's lively 6-3, 6-1 win over Mikhail Youzhny, a regular sparring partner, in the first round of the Dubai Open helped him begin to rebuild after a dispiriting third round loss in Melbourne.
The Swiss legend did this consistently well, serving forcefully, striking the ball with surprisingly good rhythm in a stiff breeze, and shortening the rallies by coming to the net successfully on plenty of occasions.
"He's beaten me a lot in practice," Federer said when asked how he managed to be so ruthless against someone he had been playing since the turn of the century and to whom he had never lost.
"For some reason he has not done so in a match," he added. "You can't feel sorry. You have to make your best effort."
Youzhny, who has twice reached the final here, is still a fluent ground-stroker but only remained a contender in this match for the first seven games against a Federer intent on not playing too carefully in tricky conditions - a mistake he believes he made in Australia.
Youzhny then saved three break points before being pressured into driving too long on the fourth. After that Federer consolidated the break with a sharp service game before breaking again to close the first set. The second was so quick the match was over inside one hour.
"In the best of three (sets) on a quick court, the score can run away from you. A bad five to ten minutes can cost you the match," Federer said. "So I'm pleased with the way I started."
It was a startling contrast to the start of Ernests Gulbis, the fifth-seeded Latvian, who was in the world's top ten at last year's Wimbledon, but is now at risk of tumbling rapidly from the top 20 after losing his seventh match in a row - and all five matches this year. This time it was a 7-5, 6-2 loss to Denis Istomen of Uzbekistan despite leading 4-1 in the first set
Gulbis has plausible explanations. He has had a bad shoulder and a persistent virus. The conditions were often very difficult, an umpire's giant sunshade turning inside out in the wind, causing it to be dismantled. Several paper bags blew distractingly into the sky above the court, one descending erratically before landing on Gulbis' racket.
And he had other problems, apart from mood, form and adverse weather. One travel bag was lost during his journey, causing him to arrive without tennis shoes.
"I bought shoes here one size too small, so I was practising in shoes one size too small," he said. "Didn't break my good mood until today's match."
His dark humour made it easy to be sympathetic. "I don't know what's going on," was his first amusing response. And then: "In practice I have been playing worse than in the match."
His conclusion: "It worries me, definitely worries me. Does it keep me awake in the night? No."
Gulbis' exit is possibly good news for Tomas Berdych, although the fourth-seeded Czech could still have a quarter-final against another dangerously unpredictable hitter - Lukas Rosol, once the Wimbledon conqueror of Rafael Nadal.
Earlier, Novak Djokovic's first appearance ended in a defeat on an outside court, as he and his Serbian compatriot Laslo Djere lost in the men's doubles. The victors, by 6-2, 7-5, were Daniel Nestor, the Belgrade-born Canadian, a winner of eight Grand Slam titles, and Rohan Bopanna of India, one of the holders of this title.
Results of the ATP Dubai Open on Monday (x denotes seeding):
Roger Federer (SUI x2) bt Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) 6-3, 6-1
Joao Sousa (POR) bt James McGee (IRL) 6-1, 6-2
Denis Istomin (UZB) bt Ernests Gulbis (LAT x5) 7-5, 6-2
Andrey Golubev (KAZ) bt Fabrice Martin (FRA) 7-5, 6-4