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French Open 2021: Roger Federer withdraws to protect body after knee surgeries

Roger Federer played in front of empty stands in a late-night finish to his third-round match

Roger Federer has withdrawn from the French Open to protect his body despite reaching the fourth round.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion took the decision the day after a gruelling third-round win over Dominik Koepfer.

“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, 39, said.

He had been due to face Italian ninth seed Matteo Berrettini on Monday.

“After discussions with my team, I’ve decided I will need to pull out of Roland-Garros today,” Federer said in a statement released by French Open organisers.

“I am thrilled to have gotten three matches under my belt. There is no greater feeling than being back on court.”

Federer, who won the French Open in 2009, had two knee surgeries last year and had played only three matches in 16 months before arriving in Paris.

He has made no secret that his priority for this year is Wimbledon, which starts on 28 June.

Saturday’s match against Koepfer was a lengthy encounter that finished at 00:43 local time and Federer occasionally looked uncomfortable, lacking fluency in a 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 victory.

He had already suggested straight after the match that a withdrawal could be on the cards if he felt there would be too much risk to his knee.

Was this Federer’s last French Open?

The Swiss, who turns 40 in August, had not played many times at Roland Garros in recent years, sitting out three successive editions from 2016 because of injury and a wish to manage his workload.

He returned in 2019, reaching the semi-finals, but missed last year’s tournament while recovering from knee surgery.

Before heading to Paris this year he was open about his aims – playing in Paris was about gathering match practice to get himself in the best condition for the grass-court season, and most importantly Wimbledon.

That Grand Slam offers Federer his best chance to add to his 20 major singles titles, with his game perfectly suited to the surface and with him perhaps harbouring a sense of unfinished business after falling agonisingly short of a ninth title there in 2019 when he failed to convert two championship points against Novak Djokovic.

He has given no clue as to whether this will be his final Roland Garros appearance – and he could yet be tempted to say ‘goodbye’ properly after his third-round match was played in front of empty stands late at night.

The stadium was eerily quiet because of a curfew relating to coronavirus restrictions and for a player used to being watched by packed courts while winning the sport’s biggest prizes, this did not feel like an appropriate Paris farewell.

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