Federer stays alive in thriller on French Open silent night

·2-min read
Running on empty: Roger Federer playing against Germany's Dominik Koepfer in an empty Court Philippe Chatrier

Roger Federer battled into the French Open fourth round after a tense four-set victory over Dominik Koepfer in a tie played inside an eerily-empty stadium and which finished at just before 12:45 on Sunday morning.

Federer, the 2009 champion and probably taking part in his last Roland Garros after a career stretching into its fourth decade, will be in the second week in Paris for the 15th time.

His knife-edge 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 win over the 59th-ranked German took place at a Court Philippe Chatrier devoid of fans and atmosphere due to a government-enforced Covid-19 curfew.

The 39-year-old, who underwent two knee surgeries last year and is playing just his third event since the 2020 Australian Open, goes on to face Italy's Matteo Berrettini for a quarter-final spot.

"There are still a few people here, I don't know who they are: sponsors, journalists, my team too," said 20-time Grand Slam title winner Federer after the three and a half hour tussle.

"It's thanks to them that everything was possible. I love tennis, I like to play. I might have been more nervous if the stadium had been full."

He added: "All the matches I've played since the injury are information for the rest of the season.

"It gives me great pleasure to be able to play 3hr 30min at a high level against a very good player. It shows that I'm on the right track."

After taking the opening set, Federer squandered a break in the second to eventually allow Koepfer to level.

The German was then 3-1 up in the third before the Swiss star hit back to claim another tie-break.

It was the first time in 424 Grand Slam matches that Federer had played tie-breaks in the first three sets.

Federer handed back an early break in the fourth set as Koepfer composed himself after being docked a penalty point for spitting on a ball mark in the clay.

But one more break for the Swiss star in the 11th game allowed him to serve out the victory.

His performance won rave reviews from rivals following the match on television.

"I'm not bothered by the outcome of this match at all," tweeted Britain's Andy Murray, a former world number one and three-time major winner.

"Just seeing Federer at 39 off the back of 2 knee surgeries playing to an empty stadium at 12.30am getting fired up is inspirational to me. Do what you love."

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