Roger Federer admitted that he could pull out of the French Open, despite coming through a gruelling four-set battle against Germany’s Dominik Koepfer to reach the last 16 at Roland Garros.
The Swiss great was nowhere near his vintage best against the world No 59, but following a taxing affair on a deserted Court Philippe Chatrier, he secured a 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 victory to avoid what would have been his earliest exit in Paris since 2004.
The 39-year-old made 63 unforced errors throughout the contest, but he still conjured up moments of brilliance – in and amongst sheer resilience – to wrap up victory at 12:43am local time.
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“I need to decide if I keep on playing or not or is it not too much risk at this moment to keep on pushing, or is this just a perfect way to just take a rest?”
Federer pondering his Paris participation
Federer, who underwent double knee surgery last year and is competing in just his third event since the 2020 Australian Open, is now through to the second week at Roland Garros for the 15th time in his career.
He is also through to the last 16 of a Grand Slam for a record-extending 68th time, and is set to take on ninth seed Matteo Berrettini for a place in the quarter-finals, where top seed Novak Djokovic may await.
Nevertheless, the 20-time Grand Slam champion reiterated ahead of the tournament that Wimbledon was his ‘huge goal’ for 2021, and he revealed post-match that he would consider pulling out of the French Open with SW19 firmly in mind.
“These are all stepping stones to something that is really important to me. It is the season, and it is the comeback. I need matches like these,” Federer told reporters post-match.
“We go through these matches, we analyse them highly and look on what’s next and will do the same tonight and tomorrow, because I need to decide if I keep on playing or not or is it not too much risk at this moment to keep on pushing, or is this just a perfect way to just take a rest?
“Because I don’t have the week in between here and Halle [the grass-court tournament] like normal to see what’s best now, if you count back from Wimbledon and so forth.
“It’s just a lot going on, but having a match like this, knowing I could have probably played a fifth set but not knowing how I will wake up tomorrow is interesting, to say the least.”
The 2009 champion enjoyed serene progression in his opener against Denis Istomin before battling past former US champion Marin Cilic in four sets in round two, but his clash against Koepfer was his longest since surgery.
There’s nothing quite like it ❤️ pic.twitter.com/A5SCKFptrs
“Every match here or Geneva I have to reassess the situation after the match and see in the morning how I wake up and how does the knee feel the next morning,” Federer elaborated.
“So from that standpoint it always goes like that. There is no difference after a match like this, but maybe even more so after a match like this that has been long. I have not been in two, three-and-a-half-hour battles in practice either.”
The eighth seed is no longer the infallible figure he once was, yet the unwavering sense of jeopardy that surrounds his game at present ensures that he remains a compelling watch.
The Basel-born star claimed he was aiming to embrace the elements of unpredictability in his game, conceding that he had surpassed his own expectations with his exploits on the red dirt.
“I clearly hadn’t practised for three hours, 35. I pushed as much as I could, as we thought reasonable. But this today was I think a huge step forward for the team. I didn’t expect to be able to win three matches here,” Federer continued.
“It is fun in some ways not knowing, like in 2017 when I came back or when nobody really knows – even myself doesn’t know what is possible. So that’s got a fun angle but I would prefer it differently.
“I would prefer to be in Rafa’s or Novak’s shoes right now where they’re like, I’m feeling good. If I’m playing well, I’m winning. I don’t have that feeling right now, so for me these are all stepping stones.”
Federer has relished the return of crowds at Roland Garros over the last week, therefore the prospect of him bowing out in an empty arena would not have been befitting of the farewell he merits.
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However, despite the absence of fans on Saturday evening due to the government curfew, Federer insisted they still played an instrumental role in his victory.
“It was a lot of premiers for me; playing against Koepfer for the first night session here in Paris, first time no fans in a long, long time, or ever in my career. That was definitely very unique in many ways, and I’m happy I found a way,” he added.
“Also especially emotionally, how do you handle losing that second set? How do you handle to keep pushing yourself on and try to feed off the energy of the team and thinking of all the people watching on TV?
“I was really picturing a lot of people on a Saturday night maybe checking in on the game and watching some tennis. So, in many ways, I was also playing for them and trying to let that inspire me.”
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