A few hours after he defeated Joao Sousa in the second round, the four-time Rome runner-up Roger Federer hit the court again, this time against the 13th seed Borna Coric who finished his second round match on Tuesday. The young Croat already scored two wins over Roger and was a point away from the third one today, leading 6-4 in the deciding tie break before losing it 9-7, as Roger prevailed 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 in two hours and 31 minutes.
Thanks to that opening set, Borna won 12 points more than Roger but not the most important ones, facing just two break points and suffering two breaks to mount the pressure on Federer. The Swiss erased five out of eight break points he had to play against and managed to keep his focus in the closing moments of the decider to advance into the eighth quarter-final in Rome, the first since 2015.
Roger had 33 winners and 42 unforced errors while Borna delivered a 29-35 ratio, overpowering Federer in both the shortest and mid-range exchanges but not being able to make that one last push towards the win, despite a great effort.
The young Croat made a perfect start, dropping just nine points on serve in the opening set and delivering some magic on the return to leave Federer far behind. Borna broke in the very first game of the match, forcing an error from Roger after a deep return and opening a 3-0 lead following a terrible backhand from the Swiss who was yet to find his rhythm in the second match of the day.
Coric saved a break point in the next game to extend the advantage and closed the first part of the encounter with a comfortable hold in game eight for a 6-2 after 40 minutes. Federer counted to 13 errors and he trailed in the shortest points up to four strokes where he usually rules the court, having to work much harder in set number two if he wanted to change the things on the court.
Coric found the way to take 43% of the return points in set number two as well although this time his serve didn't work as well as in the first, losing the edge in the pivotal moments to hand the set to Roger. The Swiss earned a break in the sixth game following a loose forehand from Borna, coming from a 40-0 down in the next game to confirm the break and move 5-3 up.
Out of sudden, Coric held at love to reduce the deficit and broke at love a few minutes later after a forehand mistake from Roger to prolong the set and chances of wrapping up the win in straight sets. Instead of that, the youngster hit another forehand long in game ten to offer a break and a set to Roger, sending the battle into a deciding set.
There, Federer fended off a break point at 2-2 after forcing an error from Borna and an even bigger one at 4-4 when the Croat failed to control his forehand once again, bringing the game home with a service winner and sending the pressure back to Coric's side of the net.
Borna endured all the efforts, dropping just eight points behind the initial shot in the final set and creating two match points at 6-4 in the breaker. Roger was not to be denied, though, repelling them both and prevailing 9-7 to match into the quarter-final, the first in Rome in four years.