File photo: Switzerland’s Roger Federer serves the ball to Germany’s Dominik Koepfer during their men’s singles third round tennis match on Day 7 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 5, 2021. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP
Roger Federer pulled out of what was possibly his last French Open on Sunday as a precautionary measure to rest up before Wimbledon, unwilling to risk his troublesome knee after an injury-plagued past 18 months.
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam title winner, who will be 40 in two months’ time, had battled over three and a half hours until 12.45am Sunday morning to reach the last 16 in Paris.
“After discussions with my team, I’ve decided I will need to pull out of Roland Garros today,” Federer said.
“After two knee surgeries and over a year of rehabilitation it’s important that I listen to my body and make sure I don’t push myself too quickly on my road to recovery.
“I am thrilled to have gotten three matches under my belt. There is no greater feeling than being back on court.”
The Swiss star was due to play Italy’s Matteo Berrettini on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals, but Federer had cast doubt over whether he would continue following his win over Dominik Koepfer.
Federer was playing only his third tournament since last year’s Australian Open and has always said Wimbledon is his main goal.
He is chasing a ninth title at Wimbledon which starts on June 28.
He is also scheduled to play the warm-up grass court tournament in Halle beginning on June 14, the day after the French Open ends.
“The Roland Garros tournament is sorry about the withdrawal of Roger Federer, who put up an incredible fight last night,” said tournament director Guy Forget.
“We were all delighted to see Roger back in Paris, where he played three high-level matches. We wish him all the best for the rest of the season,”
If his knife-edge 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 win over 59th-ranked Koepfer was his last match in Paris, it will be remembered as a gripping affair on the court, but soulless off it.
Due to a government-imposed Covid-19 curfew, Court Philippe Chatrier was devoid of fans and atmosphere.
Federer, who made his Roland Garros debut in 1999 and was champion in 2009, was playing a night session for the first time.
However, the almost empty 15,000-capacity court was eerily silent.
Federer’s return this year was only his second French Open participation since 2015.
Serena eyes history
Serena Williams of the US serves the ball to Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu during their women’s singles second round tennis match on Day 4 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 2, 2021. (Photo by MARTIN BUREAU / AFP)
While he leaves an event where Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were always the title favourites, fellow veteran Serena Williams resumes her bid for a historic 24th Grand Slam title.
Seeded seventh, the 39-year-old Williams is the second-highest ranked player left in the women’s draw.
After Naomi Osaka’s shock withdrawal, Simona Halep missing the event through injury and early losses for Bianca Andreescu and Angelique Kerber, none of the players who have beaten Williams in Grand Slam finals since her last title at the 2017 Australian Open are still in the competition.
The former world number one, still just one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of major trophies, takes on Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina for a spot in the quarter-finals.
Williams has not gone beyond the fourth round in Paris since losing the 2016 final to Garbine Muguruza.
She arrived at this year’s French Open with just one win on clay this term.
“I’ve had a rough clay court season thus far, so I’m happy to get some wins on the clay,” Williams said after beating fellow American Danielle Collins in round three.
Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, fancied to reach his first Grand Slam final, with Nadal and Djokovic in the other half of the draw, sealed his return to the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
A semi-finalist at the past two majors, Tsitsipas was beaten in a thrilling five-setter by Djokovic in Paris eight months ago.
He could next face twice Grand Slam finalist and second seed Daniil Medvedev, the Russian who plays Chile’s Cristian Garin in the last 16.
Earlier, Tamara Zidansek became the first Slovenian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final when she defeated Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.
The world number 85, who knocked out former US Open champion Andreescu in round one, will meet Paula Badosa for a place in the semi-finals after the Spaniard beat 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova returned to the Roland Garros quarter-finals for the first time since 2011, defeating former world number one Victoria Azarenka 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.