The possibility that the Big Three, in the top half of the French Open draw, would meet in the latter stages is getting closer. The three are now safely ensconced in the last 16 and, in the case of Roger Federer, one match away from facing Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals which could be followed by the winner then taking on the defending champion Rafa Nadal in the semis.
We go through these matches, you know, we analyse them highly and look on what’s next and will do the same tonight and tomorrow latest, because I need to decide if I keep on playing or not Roger Federer
Most certainly a mouth-watering prospect for fans but all three have tricky fourth round opponents to contend with for that scenario to take place, should Federer decide to continue!
In fact Federer is lucky to be starting the second week for Dominik Koepfer had the opportunities to beat what was a below-par performance from the great Swiss who at times, showed his 39-years, struggling against the powerful German, 12 years his junior.
Playing on Court Philippe-Chatrier in the soul-destroying evening slot, under lights and with no fans whatsoever in compliance with the French Covid regulations which include a 9.00pm curfew, Federer must have found the atmosphere debilitating.
He certainly struggled to motivate himself and while he had announced before the start of the event, that he was playing the grand slam only to test his knees and really prepare himself for the grass-court season. Nonetheless, it didn’t mean he wouldn’t be trying to go all the way.
Most pundits believe reaching the second week will be as far as the 20-time grand slam winner will go and is unlikely to go any deeper.
His run this week, bearing in mind his 18-month lay-off for knee surgery, will have given him the confidence he was looking for. He blasted past Denis Istomin in his opening match and then survived a ‘time violation’ hiccup and the loss of a set to long-time rival Marin Cilic before struggling past Koepfer after three-hours and 35-minutes, 7-5(5) 6-7(3) 7-6(4) 7-5 in a match which saw him make not only numerous errors, but some shaky shot selections.
Koepfer in contrast was strong and probably should have won the match. The 27-year-old matched the great Swiss in the first, then snatched the second to maintain the pressure on Federer who was by now showing some weariness.
He even went down a break to give Koepfer the chance of establishing a 2-sets to one lead only for the German too lose his concentration at the critical moment allowing Federer to hit back and eventually claim another tie-break.
He also fell behind in the fourth as Koepfer regained his composure after being docked a penalty point for spitting on a ball mark in the clay court.
Again, Federer levelled and in the11th game, secured the critical break which allowed him to serve out for the match.
“I thought it was very important for me,” Federer said of the win. “I clearly hadn’t practiced 3 hours 35, because that’s obviously always pushing it. I pushed as much as I could, as we thought reasonable. But this today was I think a huge step forward for the team, and for all of us.
“I didn’t expect to be able to win three matches here, and, you know, sort of back up a good performance of Cilic as well in completely different circumstances tonight. So I’m very happy. I think we have a lot to go through with the team about tonight.”
And that includes a decision as to whether to continue or not.
His next opponent, Matteo Berrettini, the Italian ninth seed, will no doubt be awaiting his decision with interest.
As Federer revealed: “We go through these matches, you know, we analyse them highly and look on what’s next and will do the same tonight and tomorrow latest, 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, like normal, to see, like, 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. Yeah, it’s definitely a different time right now for me.”
Meanwhile his main rivals had, in comparison, easy matches and progressed without extending themselves, a factor highlighted by Federer.
“I’d prefer to be in Rafa’s or Novak’s shoes right now where they’re like, I’m feeling good,” Federer commented. “If I’m playing well, I’m winning.
“I don’t have that feeling right now, so for me these are all stepping stones, right, to something that is really important to me.”
To make the fourth round Nadal swept Cameron Norrie aside as did Djokovic to Ricardas Berankis.
In what was their third meeting of the season, Norrie, despite his straight sets loss, leaves Paris knowing he had acquitted himself well against the defending champion.
The world No 3 from Spain, who is chasing a record-extending 14th title at Roland Garros, won 6-3 6-3 6-3 to set up an intriguing fourth-round clash against young Italian prospect Jannik Sinner, the 19-year-old 18th seed, who dispatched Sweden’s Mikael Ymer 6-1 7-5 6-3.
For Nadal the victory improved his win-loss record at Roland Garros to an incredible 103-2 while extending his run of straight set wins to 32 at Roland Garros.
Norrie came into this year’s French Open having made impressive runs to the finals of clay-court events in Estoril and Lyon, and had no illusions as regards his meeting with Nadal, describing it as the toughest challenge in sport, but was unable to stop the Mallorcan reach the fourth round of a grand slam for the 50th time.
“It was a wonderful experience playing against him, and I thought I played great,” the 25-year-old Norrie, the British No.2, said. “I don’t think I took enough risks. All in all, I think it was a great experience.
“Enjoyed it. A great experience. And let’s move on to the grass and get ready for some more tennis.”
Norrie will now turn his attention to preparing for the grass court season and Queen’s. “It’s going to be tricky going from the clay to the grass, so get back to London and prepare as much as I can,” he said. “I can’t wait for being back and playing in front of some home crowd and getting some support.”
Earlier in the day the top seeded Djokovic made it into the fourth round of Roland Garros for a 12th consecutive time, an open era record in itself, when he overran Lithuania’s Berankis 6-1 6-4 6-1 in just 92-minutes.
The Serb romped through the opening set and while the second was more competitive, he rattled off five consecutive games to dominate the third. Berankis just avoiding a bagel but couldn’t prevent Djokovic from moving on as expected.
Djokovic was always in control, conceding just five points on his first serve throughout the entire match.
“I’m always my biggest critic and you can always do certain things better, but it couldn’t be much better than this, especially the first and third sets. I served well, moved well and made him play,” Djokovic told Eurosport post-match.
Like Nadal, Djokovic has to contend with one of the rising teenage stars from Italy. In his case it is Lorenzo Musetti, a 19-year-old with a penchant for delivering tricky shots which makes any match he is involved in more than just interesting!
To reach the fourth round, Musetti beat his countryman Marco Cecchinato 3-6 6-4 6-3 3-6 6-3.
Finally, Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman put paid to Philipp Kohlschreiber’s campaign by defeating the German 6-4 6-2 6-1 and will take on another German for a place in the last eight, Jan-Lennard Struff who brought to an end the run of Spain’s own teenage prodigy, 18-year-old Carlo Alacraz, 6-4 7-6(3) 6-2.