BRISBANE: A refreshed Roger Federer's clinical demolition of Jarkko Nieminen in his first match of 2014 suggested he could be a factor in the first major of the year.
His debut appearance at the Brisbane International was rapturously greeted by tournament organizers and fans alike, but following his first year without a grand slam final appearance since 2002 it was not certain what stage of decline the Swiss ace was in.
A 6-4 6-2 victory over his tough Finnish opponent hinted that he was ready to put on a competitive showing at Melbourne Park, now relieved of the back problems that dogged his 2013 campaign and contributed to his second and fourth-round exits at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
"I'm actually very clear in my mind," Federer told reporters. "Now it's just down to forehands and backhands and tactics and movement. That's kind of what you want it to be, because unfortunately it hasn't always been that way last year with my issues."
The scoreline flattered Federer in some ways. Both men eked out four break points over the two sets and Nieminen fought on level terms at the baseline, hitting eye-catching forehand winners throughout.
Federer's mastery of the pivotal points of the match showed the steel behind the game's most graceful player remained firmly in place and his preference for playing new tournaments is far from a retirement tour.
For the crucial break of the first set he came from 0-40 down in the fifth game and then saved a break point on his own serve to build a two-game cushion.
In the second stanza he immediately grabbed the initiative, breaking in the first game and with his serve at near its imperious best he never looked like letting the advantage slip.
"I expect myself to play a bit better in the next match, even though today was already very good for a first match in so many weeks," Federer said.
"You don't want to overrate, it but you also don't want to underrate it.
"The worst thing that can happen is if you lose early and then you have to go back on the practice courts, and you think you're actually playing okay and then the matches roll around and you don't end up."
The 17-times grand slam champion next meets Australian Marinko Matosevic, who beat Sam Querrey 5-7 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 in an entertaining match.
Bulgarian fifth seed Gregor Dimitrov was beaten in straight sets 7-5 7-5 by Croatia's Marin Cilic and number two seed Japan's Kei Nishikori had no problem easing past Australia's Matthew Ebden 6-2 6-4.
Women's number two seed Victoria Azarenka easily defeated home favorite Casey Dellacqua 6-3 6-1 and will play Stefanie Voegele next after the Swiss player was handed a last-eight berth following the withdrawal of 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki due to a gastric illness.
German fifth seed Angelique Kerber progressed past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova after the Russian pulled out with a left injury when 6-2 4-3 down.
Kerber will now face fourth seed Jelena Jankovic of Serbia.