Preview: Federer Facing Another New Challenge At Roland Garros
Empty stands, ‘bubble’ environments, players having to handle their own towels – the ATP Tour has changed a lot since Roger Federer was forced to step away from the sport in February 2020. Now in the first Grand Slam appearance of his comeback to action, the former World No. 1 will face another brand-new challenge as he gears up for his first night session on Saturday at Roland Garros.
The 2009 champion was quick to keep expectations in check ahead of Roland Garros, his third tournament of the year. Federer earned a 1-2 record across ATP 250 events in Doha and Geneva, and according to the Swiss, regaining his match fitness has only been part of the challenge.
“I think [I’m] getting used to tournament and match rhythm again, the whole thing with the towels there, the shot clock there, everything that goes with it,” Federer said after his first-round match in Paris. “I really felt like I didn't find the rhythm [in Geneva]... I think that's what got me at the end.”
With five matches under his belt in 2021, eighth seed Federer will hope he’s gotten the hang of it as he takes on 27-year-old Dominik Koepfer in the new night session on Court Philippe-Chatrier. It will be his first meeting against the No. 59-ranked German, who is into this stage at Roland Garros for the first time. Koepfer is the 347th different opponent that Federer has faced in his career.
“He's so crafty. He's so talented. It's amazing to watch him play,” Koepfer said of Federer. “He's different than all the other players, and I hope Roger wins [his second-round match] just so I can say I played him. I don't just want to play him, I want to give him a battle and maybe come out with a win somehow.”
In the Chatrier day session, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic will take the court against Ricardas Berankis looking to improve his 3-0 ATP Head2Head lead against the Lithuanian. Djokovic dropped just five games in the pair’s most recent meeting at last year’s Roland Garros.
Djokovic, who landed in the same section as Federer and could meet him in the quarter-finals, has yet to drop a set in Paris. He arrived at the year’s second Grand Slam high on confidence after reaching an ATP Masters 1000 final on clay in Rome and lifting his 83rd tour-level trophy in Belgrade.
“I'm playing well, feeling great. I'm ready to go deep in this tournament,” Djokovic declared after his second-round victory over Pablo Cuevas. “Hopefully that's gonna be the case, but I'll take it match by match, and so far the two matches that I have played have been played [at] a high quality.”
Third seed Rafael Nadal will continue his quest for a record-extending 14th Coupe des Mousquetaires on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, where he will face Cameron Norrie for the third time this season. The Spaniard claimed a comfortable victory over the Brit in their most recent meeting en route to the trophy in Barcelona (d. Tsitsipas) in April.
But Norrie has been turning heads this season, especially on the red clay, where he has reached two finals at ATP 250 events in Estoril (l. Ramos-Vinolas) and Lyon (l. Tsitsipas). In Estoril, Norrie stunned Cristian Garin and Marin Cilic, while in Lyon he earned the biggest win of his career over Dominic Thiem.
“Every week he's making good results, winning against very good players,” Nadal said. “I know [it is] going to be a tough one. I need to be ready to play my best. I know he has a style of game that is not easy to play against. I need to play well.”
Keen tennis fans will want to keep an eye on Court Simonne-Mathieu as two unseeded players, qualifier Carlos Alcaraz and Jan-Lennard Struff, battle for a spot in the second week. Alcaraz, 18, has already impressed by advancing to the third round in Paris, the best Grand Slam result of his young career in only his second main draw appearance.
“The first match you have to win is against yourself,” Alcaraz told ATPTour.com. “In the end, knowing how to manage your emotions is very important and I’m getting better at that.”
Struff, 31, is bidding for his second fourth-round appearance here after pulling off one of the biggest early-tournament upsets with a defeat of seventh seed Andrey Rublev in his opening match. A meeting with either 10th seed Diego Schwartzman or Philipp Kohlschreiber, who will open the day’s action on Lenglen, awaits the winner.