• French Open, Day Eight

Federer forced into five-set thriller to progress

ESPN staff
June 2, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Roger Federer was pushed the distance against Gilles Simon © Getty Images
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Roger Federer needed five sets - and the partisan support of a crowd that should perhaps have been backing his opponent - to book his place in the quarter-finals of the French Open on Sunday.

The Swiss claimed his 36th successive last-eight berth at a grand slam with an arduous 6-1 4-6 2-6 6-2 6-3 win over Gilles Simon, as the crowd in Paris willed Federer to the line even as a Simon win would have created the very real possibility of a first Frenchman in a men's final at Roland Garros for 25 years.

Simon, glorious in the middle phase of the contest, was just a set from victory after clinching the third set in emphatic fashion - but the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier cheered for Federer and it seemed to lift his game, as he fought back in the fourth before duly dominating the decisive fifth set.

Having successfully clinched his 900th ATP Tour victory, Federer will now face another Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, for a place in the semi-finals.

Federer started in routine fashion and looked as if he had not stepped away from the court since his comfortable victory over Julien Benneteau. It was the Swiss who stole the advantage in the opening set, racing into a 5-1 lead. As Simon was looking to force the ball deep to the baseline, Federer took full advantage and picked off the points in devastating fashion.

The record 17-time grand slam champion marvellously brought up set point with a running forehand that somehow bent around the net post; Simon clearly stunned as to how it passed the net.

It clearly affected the Frenchman, as he slammed a return into the net to gift Federer the first set.

The second set, however, saw a clear shift in momentum - especially after a point where Federer seemed to stub his toe. Simon, perhaps sensing some weakness in his opponent, appeared to free up and take a more aggressive line with his shots - an approach that paid immediate dividends, as he gained his first break of the match after Federer hit a poor forehand long.

Galvanised by that, Simon held his nerve during some touchy moments to restore parity in the contest - condemning Federer to his first dropped set of the tournament to date.

Many on Philippe Chatrier perhaps expected that to be that for Simon - but the Frenchman found himself in a sweet vein of form, with seemingly every groundstroke finding its intended destination and Federer struggling for the right answers.

A Simon break of serve in the third put Federer on the back foot, with a second break paving the way for Simon to move within in a set of victory. The Swiss, however - so comfortable throughout the tournament to date - suddenly found himself needing to go the full five sets if he was to continue his streak of quarter-final grand slam appearances.

Perhaps aware of the achievement he was on the verge of completing, Simon began to tighten up slightly - allowing Federer to rediscover a rhythm as he once again became the aggressor in most of their rallies. The reaction to Federer points may not have helped Simon either - the Frenchman perhaps entitled to expect more support than he was receiving, with the first of two Federer breaks in the fourth set cheered wildly by the predominantly French spectators.

Federer's blistering tennis duly set up a fifth set, where the first player to flinch was likely to end up out of the tournament. And it was Simon who would crumble, being broken in his first service game of the set to hand Federer the initiative.

Finally, belatedly, the crowd began to get firmly behind Simon - and just in time, as a couple of fortuitous volleys enabled Simon to prevent a second break and retain some hope in the contest.

At such a fraught stage of the match no holds were straightforward but Federer avoided pivotal mistakes, setting the stage for him to serve for a contest he had appeared close to losing just an hour earlier.

Federer now faces another stiff challenge with a home favourite, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stands between him and a place in the last four.

Earlier on Court Philippe Chatrier, Tsonga completed his fourth successive straight sets victory of his 2013 French Open campaign, seeing off Viktor Troicki to book his place in the last eight.

Tsonga was never really tested by the world No. 57 and eased to a 6-3 6-3 6-3 victory. It was a Hollywood performance from the Frenchman in front of his home crowd, which included Leonardo Di Caprio watching from the stands.

David Ferrer continued his recent good form on the clay with a 6-3 6-1 6-1 defeat of number 23 seed Kevin Anderson.

The Spaniard recently pushed compatriot Rafael Nadal to his limit in the quarter-finals of both the Madrid Open and the Rome Masters, and his dismissal of Anderson was another strong showing from the fifth seed as he bids to claim a maiden grand slam.

Ferrer plays fellow countryman Tommy Robredo in the last eight, after the number 32 seed came from two sets down to upset Nicolas Almagro 6-7(5) 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-4 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

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