By Dave JAMES – Japan Today
Roger Federer said Sunday he was withdrawing from the French Open despite having reached the fourth round, opting to focus on his primary objective of winning a ninth Wimbledon title.
“After discussions with my team, I’ve decided I will need to pull out of Roland Garros today,” the 39-year-old said after withdrawing from a tournament for just the fifth time in his career.
It was the first time, however, he had taken such a drastic measure at a Grand Slam.
“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.”
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam title winner, who will be 40 in two months’ time, battled over three and a half hours until 12:45 Sunday morning to reach the last 16 with a 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 win over 59th-ranked Dominik Koepfer.
He was due back on court on Monday to tackle Matteo Berrettini for a place in the quarter-finals.
However, having undergone two knee surgeries in 2020, the Swiss star had admitted there were doubts over whether he’d make it.
Federer is 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.
Federer, who made his Roland Garros debut in 1999 and was champion in 2009, was playing a night session for the first time in his third round tie.
However, the almost empty 15,000-capacity Court Philippe Chatrier was eerily silent due to a COVID-19 curfew.
It is likely that this was Federer’s final appearance at the tournament. His return this year was only his second participation since 2015.
“The Roland Garros tournament is sorry about the withdrawal of Roger Federer, who put up an incredible fight last night,” said Guy Forget, the tournament director.
“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.”
After winning his match, Federer said that he was pacing himself in his recovery.
“All the matches I’ve played since the injury are information for the rest of the season,” he added.
“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.”
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.”
Federer’s rivals defended his decision to withdraw after and not before his third round match.
There were arguments that Federer should have handed a walkover to a fully-fit Koepfer in order to allow the world number 59 to progress.
“I’d argue that it’s quite risky to play multiple 4-hour matches in a row in your 2nd tournaments back in 18 months,” tweeted Murray. “So to me it makes sense to be reactive based on how your body feels, length of matches etc. Sensible decision from him.”
Current world number two Daniil Medvedev, who is in the last-eight in Paris, said Federer will bounce back at Wimbledon.
“We all know that a Grand Slam is still a goal for him. I think Wimbledon always is even when he will be 50 years old,” said the Russian. “It’s a great chance for him. He wants to do his best to prepare.”