Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic gathered at the same Major only once in 2021 due to Federer's and Nadal's injuries. Three legends were all packed in the same half at Roland Garros, and they reached the last 16, like almost every time in the past 15 years.
They were not in the same position, though, with Federer still dealing with that severe knee injury and testing his game in Paris ahead of the grass swing. While Djokovic and Nadal raced into the last 16 without dropping a set, Federer had to dig deep in the third round versus Dominik Koepfer, prevailing in four tight sets after three and a half hours!
After the match, Federer said that he would rather be in Nadal's or Djokovic's shoes, as he does not know how his knee would react after such a difficult encounter and by far his toughest challenge in the last year and a half.
As we all know, Roger withdrew ahead of the fourth-round clash against Matteo Berrettini to save his knee for Halle and Wimbledon. "It's fun in some ways not knowing, like in 2017 when I came back or when nobody knows, even I do not know what is possible.
That's got a fun angle, but I would prefer it differently. I would prefer to be in Rafa's or Novak's shoes right now and say, 'I'm feeling good. If I'm playing well, I'm winning.' I do not have that feeling right now; these are all stepping stones to something significant.
It's the season, and it's the comeback. I need matches like these. I had not practiced for three and a half hours because that's always pushing it. I pushed as much as I could, as we thought was reasonable.
Roger Federer spoke about his form and physical issues at Roland Garros.
Today's match was a huge step forward for the team and all of us.
I did not expect to win three matches here and sort of back up a good performance against Cilic in completely different circumstances tonight. It was not easy for me to go out tonight. There are many 'first times' for me - playing against Koepfer in my first night session here in Paris, the first time with no fans in a long time, or ever in my career.
That was unique in many ways, and I'm happy I found a way. Also, especially emotionally, how do you handle losing that second set? How do you handle keeping pushing yourself on and trying to feed off the team's energy and thinking of all the people watching on TV? I pictured many 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. When you are down, you do not like the battle. When you are leading, it's quite fun. It goes with the territory, right? Dominik was a tough nut to crack.
It took me many different things; I tried various attempts to break him down. I thought my fighting spirit for once got me over the line as well. I tried hard, and you have got to love what you do. I tried to be 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 times. I appreciate battles like these," Roger Federer said.