PARIS (AP) — Roger Federer was honest with himself, and everyone else, before the French Open, saying he knew he didn't have any chance of winning the title. He arrived in Paris, after all, having played just three matches over the preceding year-plus following two knee operations.
Still, neither he, nor anyone else, probably expected Federer to have such a hard time getting out of Week 1 at Roland Garros. Eventually, he avoided what would have been his earliest loss there since 2004 by pulling out a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 7-5 victory over 59th-ranked Dominik Koepfer that began Saturday night and ended as 1 a.m. approached — with no crowd present because of a COVID-19 curfew.
"He was a tough nut to crack, really," Federer said. "My fighting spirit, for once, got me over the line. ... I tried to be really motivated, and see what could be done."
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam champion who turns 40 on Aug. 8, was last bounced from the French Open in the third round 17 years ago; since then, his successes there included winning the 2009 trophy and getting to four other finals (losing to Rafael Nadal each time).
But Federer couldn't hit through the court or always successfully employ attacking tactics across the more than 3 1/2 hours, with temperatures in the low-60s Fahrenheit (teens Celsius) that created cooler, heavier conditions than in recent days.