Roger Federer found a way to beat Germany’s Dominik Koepfer at Roland Garros, even though he was far from his best in a draft third round match.
Federer, 39, lacked fluidity and confidence in his game before taking the 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 victory over a Roland Garros almost empty .
The 20-time Swiss Grand Slam champion claimed victory after three hours and 35 minutes at 12:43 am local time.
He will face Matteo Berrettini, ninth seed in Italy, in the round of 16.
Berrettini, 25, reached the fourth round at Roland Garros for the first time with a 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 6-4 victory over South Korean Kwon Soon-woo.
After hitting 52 winners against Kwon to continue a strong clay season, Madrid finalist Berrettini will be widely regarded as the favorite against 2009 champion Federer.
Eighth-seeded Federer is only playing his third tournament since January 2020 after two knee surgeries and says he’s using Roland Garros to get back in shape for Wimbledon, which starts on his favorite turf at the end of this month .
Federer struggled more and more against Koepfer, ranked 59th in the world, in a grueling competition that lacked quality and was played in a soulless, fanless atmosphere.
In a long opening set, Federer couldn’t get any of the five break points – including a set point in Game 10 – before an untimely double fault from Koepfer helped the Swiss to break the tie. break.
The ruthless edge finally appeared in the opener of the second set when Federer whipped a cross forehand past Koepfer to convert his third break point.
Little split the pair, who traded three more breaks in a row, during another tight and bulky set. The solid Koepfer was able to draw direct errors from the erratic Federer, who also struggled with his generally reliable serve.
Federer’s demeanor became increasingly dejected after Koepfer broke up in the opener of the third set and he appeared to weaken physically as the German remained in control.
Somehow, the Swiss brought the momentum back out of nowhere with a break in the eighth game and, after missing a set point in the 12th, took the third tie-break.
The fourth set seemed destined for another tie-break before Federer digs deep to raise his level and take the last three games to victory.
But there were no fans to celebrate the moment, which seemed especially difficult considering a player who has entertained crowded stadiums for so many years.
“There are still a few people here, I don’t know who they are: sponsors, journalists, my team too,” said Federer.
“I love tennis, I love to play. Maybe I would have been more nervous if the stadium had been full.”
“Night games start too late” – Should Roland Garros rethink late starts?
For the first time, Roland-Garros has introduced daily night sessions which consist of a match starting at 9 p.m. local time under the spotlight of the Philippe Chatrier court.
This means that the third set didn’t start until shortly after 11 p.m., the match finally ended shortly before 1 a.m., and left many tennis fans on social media platforms wondering who really benefited. late programming.
No fans were present on the pitch due to the 9 p.m. curfew imposed by the French government as part of the coronavirus restrictions.
“I think these night games start too late,” former UK number one Laura Robson told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“They have a really quick turnaround time to their next game, they probably get back to their hotel between 2am and 3am and then have to reset.
“It’s not easy, especially when your next opponent is long gone.
“I can’t imagine that’s what Federer expected when he came on the pitch, to be there so late. That’s another thing to worry about. recovery and less sleep, with Berrettini coming. “
So far, only one of the six night games has been a women’s game – Serena Williams’ first game against Irina-Camelia Begu on Monday – and it would be optimistic to think that a men’s game would only last two hours, which makes late arrivals inevitable.
“Federer is not supposed to play like that” – Analysis
BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller
It was a game that will be remembered for a long time, but not always for the right reasons.
Roger Federer isn’t supposed to play like this – even if it was only his sixth game in the past 16 months.
There was little flow and some horrible mistakes. But in his 40th year, and at nearly a quarter to one on a Sunday morning in a soulless and empty stadium, Federer still found the key to victory.
Night sessions are here to stay. They’ll look great and sound great for years to come – as long as they don’t start as late as 9pm.
But they’re absolutely no fun when there’s a curfew in town.