Former world one, Roger Federer, was made to go at great lengths to reach the last 16 of a Grand Slam for a record-extending 68th time by Germany’s world number 59 Dominik Koepfer in their battle, which the Swiss won 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 in a late-night slugfest at Roland Garros.
Although the tennis icon was solid in his opening two matches, with encouraging victories over qualifier Denis Istomin and former US Open champion Marin Cilic, upon his return to Open action after two knee surgeries, he got a tough test of his mettle on Saturday.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion knew it was not going to be plain sailing, as newsmen reported him as saying, and he found out just how in the night-session showdown with Germany’s Koepfer. It was tough enough to make Federer admit that, based on how he feels on his knees, he might not see the Open to the end, as he faced tie-breaks in the first three sets for the first time in 424 Grand Slam matches of his professional career.
The Swiss legend managed to redeem himself and avoided what could have been the saddest of farewells to an event that has loved him arguably more than any other. He seemed, at different moments, to be on the verge of losing for nearly all of the three hours and 35 minutes they were on court on the night and without crowds in the stands.
Federer’s 63 unforced errors did not particularly help his play but, his experience counted in his favour, as he was able to call upon his years in the game to conjure up enough grit and determination that saw him stumble over the winning line at 12:43am local time after four gruelling sets on clay.
The toughened German opponent that Koepfer was did not pull his punches throughout. The 59th ranked player was looking to reach the fourth round at a Slam for just the second time having already posted his best result at Roland Garros.
He was involved in a moment of madness as he gave into his tantrum and suffered a point deduction for spitting on Federer’s side of the net. Yet, the German was still able to force Federer to work exceptionally hard right up until the end.
In post-match comments, Roger Federer revealed the possibility of withdrawing from the French Open after Koepfer’s long and draining challenge on the night. He was trying to exercise caution to avoid endangering the knees operated on. He said: “I mean, every match here or at Geneva I have to reassess the situation after the match and see how the knee feels the next morning.”