GENEVA, Switzerland -- Roger Federer said it was time to go back to the drawing board after the Swiss tennis great lost the first match of his comeback-proper in Geneva on Tuesday.
In his first outing for two months, the 39-year-old lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to Spanish clay court specialist Pablo Andujar to wreck his hopes of stringing a run of matches together ahead of a series of major tournaments, namely the French Open, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics.
Federer tentatively returned to the courts in Doha in March, having been out for more than a year following two knee surgeries, winning his first match before losing his second.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion was hoping to find some form on the Geneva clay but tumbled at the first hurdle in his first defeat on home soil in seven and a half years.
"It's good to be back on the court but then you lose a match like this and you're down," Federer told reporters.
"I know my limitations at the moment.
"People expect a lot from me and I have high expectations for myself. So when I walk out of a match and feel I could have played so much better, it feels strange and it's disappointing."
- Flashes of old magic -
Federer said he would now work on analysing his game to identify where he is falling short.
"This is the process I need to go through. I can't get too down on myself," he said.
"I need to go back to the drawing board and talk to the team and say 'what's the plan here for the next 10 days?'.
"What did they see from the outside that maybe I didn't see and feel? There's going to be a lot of conversations."
His next tournament, the French Open, starts on May 30. However, Federer said anyone who thought he could challenge for the clay court Grand Slam title was simply "wrong".
Federer, who holds a record eight Wimbledon titles, said: "Really, the season starts on the grass.
"What's important is the next few weeks, regardless if you play tournaments or not, it's if you're back on the tour, practising with top guys, going through the rhythm. This is how you then start taking better decisions."
The world number eight was cheered on by a few dozen masked spectators dotted around the Eaux-Vives centre court, with the attendance limited due to local coronavirus restrictions.
The top seed took time to find his groove against the world number 75, who has four clay court titles to his name.
In the second set, Federer began to show flashes of the old magic, throwing in occasional backhand drop shots.
At 4-3 up in the final set he lost his serve and though he saved two match points, he misfired to hand his opponent victory.
- 'Accept it, move on' -
"I really struggled early on to find my rhythm from the baseline," Federer said.
"The moment it was getting tougher, the game wasn't there. I was missing way too much to come through. The chances were all there; I just couldn't come up with the goods.
"It's so brutal sometimes but I feel like I didn't deserve it at the end. There was just not enough happening in my game.
"I couldn't protect my serve in different ways, I couldn't break in different ways. I was a bit limited on the court. When you start to play in two minds, it gets very difficult.
"I've just got to accept it and move on."
Former world number one Federer went into the contest with a 32-match winning streak on home soil.
His last loss in Switzerland was in October 2013 in his home city of Basel against Juan Martin del Potro.
Andujar will face either Marton Fucsovics, the 2018 Geneva winner, or Swiss teenager Dominic Stricker, the 2020 French Open boys' champion, in the quarter-finals.
Stricker stunned the 2014 US Open winner and world number 46 Marin Cilic 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in the first round on Tuesday in what was the 18-year-old wildcard's first senior match on the ATP tour.
© Agence France-Presse