Federer notched seven aces in defeating Starace 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 in 1 hour, 18 minutes. The former world No. 1, who hadn't played since losing to Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semifinals last month, is now 39-7 lifetime in Basel.
In a Day 1 upset, eighth-seeded Serb Viktor Trojcki was upset by Marcos Baghdatis 4-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-2.
Lucky-loser Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, replacing Austrian Jurgen Melzer, who pulled out with a back injury, ousted American wild card Donald Young 6-4, 6-2.
Djokovic and Andy Murray are the top seeds in the event, which also includes former No. 1 Andy Roddick, seeded seventh. Djokovic, out five weeks with a back injury, meets Belgian Xavier Malisse Tuesday.
The 2011 Basel champion will collect $450,000.