Unpredictability can be fun. But if you’re looking for success, there’s no substitute for knowing what you’re bringing to the court.
That is why Roger Federer would rather the certainty of his old self — or that of his career rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — rather than be still learning about his level as he enters week two of a Grand Slam at Roland Garros.
“It’s fun in some ways not knowing, like in ’17 when I came back or when nobody really knows, even [I don’t] know what is possible,” Federer said. “That’s got a fun angle, but I would prefer it differently. I’d prefer to be in Rafa’s or Novak’s shoes right now where they’re like, ‘I’m feeling good. If I’m playing well, I’m winning.’
“I don’t have that feeling right now, so for me these are all stepping stones to something that is really important to me. It’s the season, and it’s the comeback. I need matches like these.”
Federer said after his four-set victory in the second round against Marin Cilic that he surprised himself. The 39-year-old found a way through another tough match against Koepfer, rallying from a break down in the third set to avoid going down two sets to one.
“I thought it was very important for me. I clearly hadn’t practised three hours [and] 35 [minutes], because that’s obviously always pushing it. I pushed as much as I could, as we thought [was] reasonable,” Federer said. “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 sort of back up a good performance [against] Cilic as well in completely different circumstances tonight. So I’m very happy.”
<img src="https://www.atptour.com/-/media/images/news/2021/06/05/23/13/federer-roland-garros-2021-saturday-forehand.jpg" alt="Roger Federer“>
Photo Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images
The 103-time tour-level titlist has accomplished virtually anything you could think of in tennis. But even now, 23 years after turning professional, Federer is still learning from new experiences.
“For me to go out tonight, sure, it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of [firsts] for me: Playing against Koepfer [in my] first night session here in Paris, first time [with] no fans in a long, long time, or ever in my career. That was definitely very unique in many ways, and I’m happy I found a way,” Federer said. “Also especially emotionally, how do you handle losing that second set? How do you handle to keep pushing yourself on and try to feed off the energy of the team and thinking of all the people watching on TV?
“I was really picturing a lot of people on a Saturday night maybe checking in on the game and watching some tennis. So in many ways, I was also playing for them and trying to let that inspire me.”
A positive for the 2009 champion is that he felt he “could have probably played a fifth set” if Koepfer forced a decider. Federer, who will next play big-hitting Italian Matteo Berrettini, worked hard to reach the fourth round at a major for a record-extending 68th time.
“When you’re down you don’t like [the battle]. When you’re leading, it’s actually quite fun. It goes with the territory, right?” Federer said. “He was a tough nut to crack really. Took me many different [things], I tried different attempts to break him down. I thought my fighting spirit for once got me over the line as well. I tried really hard, and you’ve got to love what you do. I do.
“I tried to be really motivated, and see what could be done. I knew it was a big match for me to back it up after Cilic. And still, you are on Centre Court in Paris. It’s where you always wanted to be as a little boy and you try to remind yourself many, many times. I appreciate battles like these.”