French OpenGrand SlamsRoger Federer

Fresh Federer Conquers Cilic at French Open

The Swiss came through in four sets to move into the third round at Roland Garros.

Roger Federer is through to the third round at the French Open after calmly dispatching Marin Cilic 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 to become the oldest player to make the last thirty-two at a Grand Slam since Ken Rosewall in 1978.

The win sees Federer move to a 10-1 lead in his head to head against Cilic, and he overcame a second-set blip, along with a first-ever time violation to progress comfortably after 2 hours and 35 minutes.

The Swiss will next face Dominik Koepfer, who defeated Taylor Fritz in four sets to make the third round in Paris for the first time.

Quick Match Recap

federer cilic fo 2021

Cilic won the toss, elected to serve and kicked off with a confident hold to love.

Federer looked to be responding in kind after racing to forty-love, but he was forced to save a breakpoint before finally holding for 1-1.

In the third game at thirty all, Federer made an early move on a second serve return which seemed to catch Cilic's eye, drawing a double fault. Federer converted the breakpoint when Cilic netted a backhand.

The Swiss was forced to deuce in game four but held for 3-1 and then secured the double break, rushing Cilic into mistakes from the baseline.

Cilic fashioned his second breakpoint of the set in a bid to recover one of the breaks in game six, but Federer again came out on top in the mini-battle, finding a string of solid serves to lead 5-1.

Federer was soon serving for the lead, and he delivered his best service game of the set, holding to love to take the opener in 30 minutes.

Into set two, and Cilic had to come through a lengthy opening game, saving a breakpoint after being up forty-love. 

The Croat then came up with some solid returning, picking Federer's serve early to break for 2-0. 

At 0-3, Federer slipped to 15-40 but found a forehand winner and an ace to make deuce before holding. Federer then fashioned two break-back points, but Cilic saved both of them.

At deuce, the umpire, Emmanuel Joseph, gave Federer a time violation for going to the towel, which resulted in a lengthy discussion between the two. Federer asked a sheepish looking Cilic if he was playing too slow.

A third break point came Federer's way on resumption, but Cilic saved it, and he held to lead 4-1. 

An exchange of holds saw Cilic move up 5-2, and he broke a rattled Federer for the second time to take the set 6-2. The Swiss only winning 59% and 17% of his first and second serve points, respectively.

Into set three, and both players held after being forced to deuce. However, Federer found a way through in game three, converting his third break point with a clean backhand winner to lead 2-1.

A love hold consolidated the break, and the 2009 champion then created 0-40. However, a glaring forehand miss kept Cilic in the game, and he went onto hold for 2-3.

Had Federer held, he would have soon forgotten the miss, but Cilic hit back, hitting some great returns to get back on serve.

A love hold from Cilic meant Roger was quickly asked to serve again, but he steadied the ship with a love hold of his own to make 4-4.

Two more love holds from each player saw the set result in a tie break. Cilic began with an ace, which the umpire deemed out, but Federer overruled it. 

Federer won both his service points and was gifted the first mini-break thanks to a Cilic double fault.

Two more service holds put Federer 5-2 in front, and he was soon two sets to one in front, cleanly winning his next two service points to take the tie break 7-4.

After a brief toilet and sock change break, Federer kicked off set four and held to lead 1-0.

Cilic needed to respond after dropping the tie break, and he did so with a love hold. Federer responded in kind to lead 2-1.

The fourth game saw Federer create a 0-30 window, and although Cilic recovered to thirty-all, he couldn't find enough first serves, hitting a costly double fault to drop serve.

Federer then held to fifteen to take a 4-1 lead, and a love hold in his next service game put him 5-2 in front.

With Cilic having to serve to stay in the match, Federer ramped up the pressure to create 15-40, and although Cilic saved the first with a forehand pass up the line, a backhand long gave Federer the win in 2 hours and 35 minutes.

Match Stats

  Marin Cilic Roger Federer
Aces 12 16
Double Faults 6 1
1st Serve 77/120 (64%) 80/177 (68%)
1st Serve Points Won 58/77 (75%) 60/80 (75%)
2nd Serve Points Won 17/43 (40%) 21/37 (57%)
Net points won 15/19 (79%) 8/15 (53%)
Breakpoints won 3/8 (48%) 5/16 (31%)
Receiving points won 36/117 (31%) 45/120 (38%)
Winners 41 47
Unforced Errors 44 27
Total Points Won 111 126
Max Serve Speed 212 km/h (131 mph( 199 km/h (123 mph)
1st Serve Average Speed 196 km/h (121 mph) 183 km/h (113 mph)
2nd Serve Average Speed 154 km/h (95 mph) 156 km/h (96 mph)


Thoughts on the Match

fed fo 2r 2021

It was a very good match for me I thought. A bit of up and down in the second and third set, but the good thing is I feel like I come out of a match like this and I know why it was up and down. I was able to attain a solid level once he did break back in the third set and things were looking dangerous for me. I'm happy I was able to step up a gear, stay with him and then pull away from him. I think that gives me a lot of confidence.

That fourth set was really big and nice for me. Because it's hard to replicate those kinds of pressure moments like third set tie-breaker, one set all, and then you know everything goes flat at the beginning of the fourth set but you have to stay on top of things and I was able to almost find another gear which he couldn't which was very nice for me. Federer on his win over Cilic

A very tidy performance from Roger here, and you'd have to say his best match post comeback in terms of the calibre of opposition and his level throughout the four sets.

I thought he looked strong physically, which is a good sign, and his game didn't waver much during the match, the serve was strong, and he invariably came out on top on the pressure points. 

This was the complete opposite to Geneva, where he looked dazed and confused in the last four games of the final set, whereas in the key moments today, he was calm and played the right shots to come through comfortably.

There was, of course, the second set blip after he received a time violation which clearly surprised him. Fed is fully aware he's probably the quickest guy on tour between points, so receiving the violation not only confused him, it riled him up a bit, and his whole game dipped. Fortunately, he settled back down fairly quickly and played a solid third set breaker.

As for Cilic, he definitely helped Fed out with some untimely double faults, and he is the type of player that will let you off the hook, but I thought Fed did a good job of not allowing him to set his feet and ask him the right questions on big points.

Cilic was also a good opponent for Federer to test the legs without expending a ton of energy. Cilic can make you have to defend with his rapier-like groundstrokes, but he is not someone who is a relentless hitter that makes it all about endurance with long rallies. So while it was testing, it wasn't exhausting, and that's important given his overall lack of court time this year.

Quick Take on the Time Violation

The time violation was the main talking point, and it occurred after Cilic had said to the Umpire during a changeover that he wanted Federer to be quicker getting the towel between points. That caused the umpire to issue Federer a time violation in the next game as Cilic was ready to serve.

Players have 25 seconds between points, but Cilic needs to get to the line early as he spends around 10 seconds bouncing the ball in his pre-service routine. But he will only start bouncing the ball after he looks up to see the opponent is ready. So any delay from the opponent puts him close to going over the 25 seconds and at risk of receiving his own time violation.

This is one of these scenarios where the rule doesn't really work. The rule states that the returner must play to the reasonable pace of the server, which is fair but is it reasonable for Cilic to rush just so he can commence his rather unique ball bouncing routine, which leaves the returner having to wait ~10 seconds before he serves? 

While this isn't going to be a problem in most matches, it does raise the question of how the tour can improve the shot clock. Any suggestions?

Final Thoughts

  • Looked strong physically
  • Served well on the big points
  • Recovered well after the second set

Predictions vs Koepfer


Next up for Federer is Dominik Koepfer, who defeated Taylor Fritz in four sets. That result is an upset in terms of rankings, but Koepfer is a solid player and, from what I've seen, always puts up a good performance (vs Stan last year in Paris and vs Medvedev US Open 2019), so it's not a surprise to see him make the third round.

Federer has never played the German before, so he won't be too familiar with his game which is always interesting, however barring Rafa, Fed's record against left-handers is rock solid, so I like his chances of making the last sixteen.

What did you guys think of the win against Cilic? Predictions vs Koepfer? Let me know in the comments.


Huge fan of Roger Federer. I watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or writing about tennis I play regularly myself and have a keen interest in tactics, equipment and technicalties of the sport.

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    1. lol sorry drevil. I’ve only had one other first comment, which happened a couple years ago. I never miss an article but an pretty shy (even on the internet) so don’t really comment

  1. Only highlights for me this time – but truly encouraging. Good run for the money, also those combined with excellent control

  2. Gosh that got the old heart rate up!

    Like you, I think this gave him a great opportunity to deal not only with a challenging player but with more of the craziness that can happen over the course of the match. He was able to pull it back together in set 3 after going off the rails a bit over the towel/time incident, & I think that’s huge. He’s still making some random bizarre errors (missed break point w/ open court – not that we’ve never seen that before-) but really that’s to be expected at this point in his comeback. I suspect he needs to stay focused in a more conscious way (possibly also as a function of age) and that just takes some getting used to.

    I hadn’t heard that about being the oldest to make it this far in a Slam since Rosewall, although I knew we were close to the time of seeing some of those Rosewall records. Was Jimmy 38 then when he made semis at USO all those years ago, or just a younger 39?

    I’ve been waiting for someone to bring back the personal-towel-in-the-pocket, or maybe it was attached to the waistband somehow. Thanks for explaining the intricacies of the brouhaha, I had still been a little puzzled!

  3. I honestly think that a soft warning could have been given first, but glad Fed could put it behind him after a while. Just so grateful we will see him for another match. Some of those backhands down the line were just awesome, I thought.

    1. Yeah, it was a bit messy, Fed said the umpire thought he knew that he needed to speed up after Cilic hit that serve when he wasn’t ready.

  4. I am really impressed with Roger’s game today.

    He truly went through a tricky opponent – a GS winner at that. And he went through and up and down match but somehow he found a way to win the third after missing a golden opportunity with 3:1 and 0:40. But he closed it out and then had a solid 4th set. To me this shows that he’s back.

    Physically, he’s there and his form can only go up from there. As long as his body holds, he may have a chance at majors again. The 5 set format with a day off suits him too.

    I was hoping for him to make the 4th round but dare I say I can definitely see a meeting with the Djoker in the QFs.

    Fingers crossed.

    Mr. Federer is a master at peaking in the Majors. A Grand Master in fact.

      1. It’s at prime-time. No crowd allowed after 9:00pm?

        That would suck. Hope Roger comes through that one.

  5. Tougher gig as we all expected but he came thru it so strongly given its only his 3rd match on clay. Yes, Jon, super impressed with his energy, his movement throughout. Of course some dips but he rose out of them well.
    Koepfer is a very tough competitor and again bizarre they hv never met. Most of us had Fed coming thru to R4. Let’s hope he does! Allez!

    1. Ye I wouldn’t be surprised if Koepfer was able to pull off the win as he’s always put up a good fight against the top 10. Although he won’t have played many players like Fed though that can mix it up so I think Fed will do it.

    2. Looks like Koepfer is very near his career high ranking right now too – I think I saw he had just reached it last month. Probably the sort of match Fed will think is “fun” as he works it out!

  6. I enjoyed this match. Good serving and returning. I wish Federer would stop saying he’s not going to go deep and get past the Djokovic section. I don’t know if he’s playing the underdog card or if this is a mental ploy. I wish he wouldn’t say anything and do his best. I know he’s more focused on the grass and Wimbledon , still …..

      1. After the Cilic match, in the studio, Fed mentioned “there is no way I am going to go super deep” “I’ll see them definitely next week or the week after here, in Halle”. The man really believe’s he not going far. So be it as long as he gets to the Wimb final.

  7. I thought Fed was excellent honestly. In Geneva, while I wasn’t worried about that loss I wondered if this would be what we could expect of him – seeing him now he doesn’t look even close to stopping. His movement is fluid, his strokes have velocity on them and his serve seems on point, can have no complaints honestly. Anything is a bonus here really, but I fancy him to go to the fourth round.

  8. @Thinker. I think Conners turned 39 during the ’91 US Open? And then went onto the Semi’s where he was beaten by Courier. The Krickstein match in the Quaters was truly amazing. I’m old enough to remember the buzz around it at the time. Gone was his trusty old T2000 Wilson, and replaced by a yellow model. Same bowl haircut though. Ha.

    1. If you want to see or relive it there’s a great 30 for 30 doco on the Connors match called
      “ Give them what they want”!

      Excellent write up especially explaining the intricacies of the unusual incident. Thankyou Jonathan.
      Cilic, Djoker & others have managed to make ball bouncing an extremely annoying tactic !
      The match was encouraging & a great chance to see Fed test & prove himself.
      Fed still puts the wow into tennis & may it continue way beyond Koepfer. Allez Roger!

    2. Thanks SummyKim, I don’t remember the matches themselves but do remember the fact he had got to the semis was just jaw-dropping at the time! He, of course, was not shy about milking that….

  9. This was a good match by Fed, thanks for the write up Jonathan. On the time incident, the commentators on tennis channel thought it was called too early. That the unwritten rule is that you don’t have to be ready until 10 seconds to go and the clock was only at 13 seconds. Of course you are supposed to play to the speed of the server. I was surprised by the fact he was toweling so much because he normally doesn’t.

    1. The umpire didn’t take into account the fact that Cilic needs to be quick so he can do his ball bouncing routine so it was a mistake really.

      Maybe there needs to be a rule that when you have stepped up to the line, you need to deliver your serve within X time, this would stop excessive ball bouncing and also people like Shapovalov who can’t toss the ball properly.

      1. Novak takes too long also. The excessive ball bouncing is an odd, or at the least, annoying way, to clear the mind prior to serving.

  10. Good solid match from Roger. A little surprised that his serving was not as strong at the beginning of the match. The time violation is nothing but BS. Opponents like Djoker, test the patience of all players when they start bouncing the ball more and more as the situation demands. This violation called on Roger is not good as when he plays Djoker in QF, he would have to patiently watch the retard bounce the ball long enough to frustrate him. Hope the league comes up with a time limit for the bouncing of balls, so everyone knows what to expect.

    1. Do you think they are doing it to annoy the opponent?

      I see it more as a by-product of them doing it, the main reason seems to be nerves / needed to feel settled before hitting a serve.

      1. I agree – although I’m wondering whether someone else will try it on now, now that they realise Roger was rattled by it. Possibly it’s only the size of Chatrier that makes it a real problem, as you have to walk further?

        I did think the time violation was a bit ludicrous: surely the first thing to do before issuing an official warning is just to have a quiet word with the player? Especially in Fed’s case, where anyone who pays attention to the game would know he’s not had time to get used to the Covid rules yet – and it was humid yesterday, so probably more towelling was needed. I could understand Federer being upset and distracted, given that we know that he never commits time violations: reminds me of being at school, and the time I, along with the entire class, received my one and only detention for something other people had done – I was chewing it over for days afterwards.

        Jon, you have a point about reconsidering the shot clock: it was obviously meant to stop the *server* taking too much time between points, but as you say, if the receiver doesn’t have time to get a towel simply because the server takes X out of the 25 seconds on his pre-serve routines that’s not right, either.

      2. I agree. Some don’t do any routine before serve (like Paire) and maybe this should be punished too, because the returner has no time for his own?

        If the assumption is, they simply need those routines to reach the right balance before serving, let them do it.

        The shit clock should disappear. The server should rule and the returner must follow him. This rule is old, logical and no need to add fuel to potential conflicts with the clock, which is manually started by the umpire.

        If some rule does not work well, the first thing is to cancel it and then think or maybe speak with players and let them vote or something..
        Like with repeating the ball toss (where Shapo is the masterclass ;)). Rules tell, the player is allowed to repeat the toss under some simple conditions so many times he needs. I guess, nobody would destroy intentionally his own serving prep only to make the returner nervous. Especially in some minutes the roles are changing and it’s easy for the return (who now turned server) to make the same.
        I guess the shot clock is a problem for players, but it was introduced because of money (valuable TV time).

      3. Yeah, it is a routine, like Rafa’s. Djoker does not need to annoy anyone to beat him.

      4. In an ideal world, it should all be purely at the discretion of the umpire, but most of them are weak, not confrontational and there is no consistency so the rules do not get enforced.

        So I do think the clock has a place as something visual we can all see, and everyone knows what is going on.

        How about having two timers, the first timer gives you 15 seconds to get into your serving stance and ready to serve, once you are in position, that timer resets to 10 seconds, and you have 10 seconds to hit a serve. This would remove excessive ball bouncing, failed ball tosses, drawn out routines.

        And the shot clock is also tied to a rally length. So if a rally goes above XX shots, then the clock is not activated automatically, instead the umpire assesses the situation, when he deems one of the players to be on the verge of being ready, crowd has died down, the timer starts.

  11. Well, that’s what I meant by “the league needs to come up with a time limit for the bouncing of balls”. Everyone knows what to expect. I agree with your point about delaying the start of clock after long rallies. Without a shot clock, players like Rafa will abuse the time between points. It was not added just for TV.

  12. Don’t be scared of Koepfer. Thiem was not in big form this year in Australia, but beat him 6:4, 6:0, 6:2.
    After Cilic match I think, Federer should at least reach QF and will have his chances against Djoker. No more against Nadal. Not here 😉

    1. Hmm, I’m wondering about that. This is the night match on Chatrier, without any spectators. Has Roger had to play one of those yet? I don’t think so. I’m wondering how he’ll adapt to the situation – and to the slower court.

  13. Fed really surprised me with his level.

    Great fun.

    I wonder if he’s playing with a TUE. Always wondered if that facilitated the insane form he had in early 2017 – a form that clearly faded as the year went on.

    If so, no fault of Fed’s as it’s legal if approved.

    Anyway, TUE or not, I’m happy to get to see him play so well again.

    Wasn’t sure we would.

  14. Who understands the concept of “night session”, where guys are set to wait 2-3 hours with empty court, after the 3-setter women’s match starting NB 16:00 and ending probably not later than 19:00, only to play before empty stadium?
    Today Fed is the victim and Rafa smartly avoided it by choosing Lenglen, but will play at normal day time and with half-full crowd.
    Koepfer may have his 5 minutes under the lights, saying he will give Federer a battle, but this 5 minutes end when they step onto the court. He never played Fed and will get a bad surprise, when he sees balls landing on different weird places on the court, he had never learned, they could land just there. Funny guys, giving Federer “some battle”. Yes, a battle to not get triple bagel 😉

  15. I mean, night sessions to be played without a crowd (because of curfew I guess) are a kind of privilege (prime time) or punishment (no crowd)? Meanwhile it could be played like on Lenglen or if NOT BEFORE, then not before 18:00 or 19:00. So I don’t understand the concept of such night sessions. Do you?

  16. I think night sessions without a crowd are dreadful. It’s horrible to watch and I am guessing even worse to play in.

    Yes it’s because of curfews, which are again government overreach that make zero sense.

  17. And the solution would be that simple. Given these are not heavy-drunk soccer fans, tournament makes a deal with police, gives spectators pass-cards to show the cops and tell them, they need to go home the simplest way available and be silent or they risk police action.
    Or start the match earlier, because Chatrier is free mostly between 18:00 and 19:00.

  18. OK 🙂 Let’s close this thread before Fed starts. You can move our off-topic posts like you did the last time.

  19. Hey Jonathan, ¿where can I find the full list of players that Federer faced by date?
    Köpfer would be like the 370th or something, I’d like to see how many of them already retired and who’s next (I think Karlovic or Lopez).

  20. Ah, the Federer experience the past several years. Up 2-0 in the second set, yet somehow bungles into a tiebreak where he can only manage 3 points. Then, to start the the third, quickly broken despite holding gamepoint. He can’t hit a drop shot or any ground strokes to save his life now it seems. This third is likely over and Fed won’t last a marathon.

    These nobodies like Koepfer should be grateful Fed is playing so long, he’s going to provide them excellent resume boosters as he continues to turn wins to losses and lose stupidly into his 40s.

  21. Beugh. Distinctly yucky performance tonight. Was trying to remember the last time I’d seen him play with his first serve missing and his forehand going AWOL, and realised it was the dreaded Anderson match in Wimbledon 2018. Oh well, let’s hope he’ll benefit from it.

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