Roger Federer is a flame that refuses to die out, even at 39 years of age. The spirited Dominik Koepfer was unable to halt the Federer Express on Saturday, as the Swiss came through 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 to reach the Roland Garros fourth round.
The match didn't lack for drama, but it was played in front of an empty Court Philippe Chatrier with only a handful of scribes in attendance. The absence of fans seemed to have played havoc with Roger Federer's mindset, as he struggled to produce the kind of majestic tennis he displayed against Denis Istomin and Marin Cilic.
At one stage in the third set, Federer looked so fatigued and disinterested that many believed he would retire from the match. But the Swiss somehow held firm and eked out a win to set up a fourth-round match against Matteo Berrettini.
On that note, here's a look at three key takeaways from Federer's win:
#1 Roger Federer doesn't give up even at 39 years of age
An aged and visibly demotivated Roger Federer struggled to keep up with Dominik Koepfer, a player 10 years his junior. It is difficult to explain why the Swiss seemed unfocused and disgruntled in some parts of the match, but he ultimately fought through despite being nowhere near his best.
At 2-4 down in the third set, Roger Federer seemed to be struggling to move or even string a couple of shots together. But he refused to give up, and kept asking questions of Koepfer one service game at a time.
The pressure eventually got too much for the German; he got broken back for 4-4, and Federer never trailed again in the match.
The Swiss will likely find it very difficult to get past Matteo Berrettini in the next round if he continues playing the way he did on Saturday. But the way he fought when his back was against the wall should serve as a warning to the rest of the field - that he is far from done, even though he is nearly into his 40s.
#2 Roger Federer hasn't forgotten how to play the big points
With many key elements of his game letting him down repeatedly against Dominik Koepfer, Roger Federer had no choice but to up his game in the crunch moments. And he did just that.
Be it through his serve or his drop shots or his forehand or his slice, Federer somehow brought everything together on the big points, especially in the last set. He produced an exquisite backhand return winner in the first set tiebreak to get the minibreak, and in the third-set tiebreak he defended like a madman to elicit a crucial error from Koepfer that gave him two set points.
Roger Federer had recently said he thrives on confidence more than experience. But on Saturday, it was the latter that was the biggest factor in his win.
#3 Roger Federer has already got everything that he needed from Roland Garros 2021
Roger Federer came into the 2021 French Open devoid of any real ambitions. By his own admission, the claycourt Major was just a means for him to get some match practice ahead of Wimbledon.
By the end of the first week, Federer has played three matches against three entirely different players (with a fourth one to go). Most would agree that the Swiss has got even more match practice than he could have hoped for.
While Federer did look fatigued against Koepfer, his knee seems to be holding up fine - as is the rest of his body. The 39-year-old will gladly take four matches from Paris as the launching pad to prepare for the grasscourt season.
All things considered, a loss against Matteo Berrettini or even against Novak Djokovic (on the off-chance that Federer beats the Italian) is not going to hurt the Swiss much.
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