Adieu, Roger: Federer pulls out of French Open after Round 3

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Switzerland’s Roger Federer walks back to the service line ready to reeive serve from Germany’s Dominik Koepfer during their third round match on day 7, of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Saturday, June 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Roger Federer always viewed this French Open as a step in his comeback from a pair of knee operations, rather than somewhere he seriously could pursue a title. So after a grueling third-round victory, and with Wimbledon just weeks away, Federer decided some rest was in order.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion withdrew from Roland Garros on Sunday, a day after he eked our a four-set win that lasted until nearly 1 a.m. — and a day before he was supposed to face No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini with a quarterfinal berth at stake.

“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,” Federer said in a statement released by the French tennis federation. “I am thrilled to have gotten 3 matches under my belt. There is no greater feeling than being back on court.”

It was part of a double dose of bad news for the French Open and tennis fans: Hours after Federer’s announcement, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams left the women’s bracket with a 6-3, 7-5 lossin the fourth round to Elena Rybakina.

Federer, who turns 40 on Aug. 8, was competing in his first major tournament since the 2020 Australian Open. Shortly after that event, he had the first operation on his right knee and wound up missing the rest of last season.

He had played just three matches this year before arriving in Paris for the clay-court Slam, where he won the trophy in 2009 and was the runner-up to 13-time champion Rafael Nadal four other times.

Federer had made clear last month that he did not see himself as ready to contend for the French Open title — “I’m just realistic and I know I will not win the French, and whoever thought I would or could win it is wrong,” he said — and instead had his sights on Wimbledon, the grass-court Slam he has won a men’s-record eight times.

Play begins at the All England Club on June 28. Federer is scheduled to prepare for that by playing a tournament on grass in Halle, Germany.

Given his age, no one knows how many more French Open appearances Federer might make. This one ended with him edging 59th-ranked Dominik Koepfer 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 over about 3 1/2 hours in a match that began Saturday night in Court Philippe Chatrier — and without any spectators, because of a 9 p.m. curfew implemented as part of coronavirus restrictions.

It also was not broadcast on TV in the United States, instead shown only via a streaming service.

“Roger is going to feel definitely painful after this match. He’s 39. He didn’t have a lot of matches this year. So I think his body is suffering,” said No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, a two-time major finalist. “Of course, we all know that a Grand Slam is still a goal for him. I think Wimbledon is always — even when he will be 50 years old — a great chance for him. He wants to do his best to prepare.”

This was the first time in Federer’s career that he gave a Grand Slam opponent a walkover.

“The Roland Garros tournament is sorry about the withdrawal of Roger Federer, who put up an incredible fight last night,” tournament director Guy Forget said in a statement. “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.”

That narrow win allowed the No. 8-seeded Federer to avoid what would have been his earliest loss in Paris since he was beaten in the third round in 2004.

Now it will be Berrettini, a 2019 U.S. Open semifinalist, who advances to his first quarterfinal at Roland Garros. He will meet the winner of Monday’s match between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and unseeded 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti of Italy for a berth in the semifinals.

Whoever emerges from that part of the bracket could take on Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. Nadal is trying to earn a record-extending 14th championship at the French Open, which would give him 21 Grand Slam titles overall, breaking the men’s mark he currently shares with Federer.

This was the first time at any Grand Slam tournament that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all were in the same half of the field.

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