Paris (AFP) -
Roger Federer battled into the French Open fourth round inside an eerily-empty stadium early Sunday after Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal had set up clashes with two Italian teenagers widely seen as their Grand Slam heir apparents.
Two months shy of his 40th birthday, Federer, the 2009 champion and probably taking part in his last Roland Garros, reached the second week in Paris for the 15th time.
His knife-edge 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 win over 59th-ranked Dominik Koepfer took place in Court Philippe Chatrier devoid of fans and atmosphere due to a government-enforced Covid-19 curfew.
Federer, who underwent two knee surgeries last year and is playing just his third event since the 2020 Australian Open, goes on to face Italy's Matteo Berrettini after triumphing just before 12:45 on Sunday morning.
'I love tennis, I like to play. I might have been more nervous if the stadium had been full,' said 20-time Grand Slam title winner Federer.
'All the matches I've played since the injury are information for the rest of the season.
'It gives me great pleasure to be able to play 3hr 30min at a high level against a very good player. It shows that I'm on the right track.'
His performance won rave reviews from rivals.
'I'm not bothered by the outcome of this match at all,' tweeted Britain's Andy Murray, a former world number one and three-time major winner.
'Just seeing Federer at 39 off the back of 2 knee surgeries playing to an empty stadium at 12.30am getting fired up is inspirational to me.'
Djokovic, the champion in Paris in 2016 and chasing a 19th Grand Slam title, brushed aside 93rd-ranked Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.
The world number one is in the last 16 for the 12th successive year and will next face 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti.
Defending champion Nadal reached the fourth round for a record 16th time, claiming his 103rd victory in Paris to set a new record of match wins at a Grand Slam, eclipsing Federer's 102 at the Australian Open
Nadal's 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Britain's Cameron Norrie put him into the last 16 of a major for the 50th time.
Nadal, chasing a 14th Roland Garros title and record-setting 21st Grand Slam, goes on to face Italian teenager Jannik Sinner.
Musetti, ranked 76 in the world, fired 50 winners past compatriot Marco Cecchinato in a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
He becomes just the sixth man since 2000 to make the fourth round of a Slam on debut.
'I have practised with Novak so I know a little bit about his game. This is what I have been working for since childhood,' said Musetti.
- Lot of firepower -
Djokovic said he was a fan of Musetti with whom he practised in Monte Carlo this year.
'He's got a lot of firepower from both forehand and backhand,' Djokovic said.
Nadal defeated Sinner in the quarter-finals in 2020 but expects a much tougher assignment on Monday.
'Jannik is not the best fourth round. Without a doubt, he's a dangerous one,' Nadal said.
'I need to be ready to play at a very high level.'
Sinner, seeded 18, made it to the second week, easing past Sweden's Mikael Ymer 6-1, 7-5, 6-3.
- Three top 10 women left -
Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic reached the last 16 for the second successive year with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over three-time quarter-finalist Elina Svitolina as only three of the top 10 women's seeds made it to the second week.
World number 33 Krejcikova goes on to face former US Open champion Sloane Stephens for a place in the quarter-finals.
Stephens, the 2018 runner-up in Paris, defeated Czech 18th seed Karolina Muchova 6-3, 7-5 to reach the last 16 for the seventh time.
Fourth seed Sofia Kenin, the runner-up in 2020 and the highest seed left, came back to beat fellow American Jessica Pegula 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
The top three seeds, Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka all exited earlier in the week.
Serena Williams, seeded seventh, plays her last 16 match on Sunday.
Defending champion and eighth seed Iga Swiatek overcame an early break to defeat Estonia's Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7/4), 6-0 to stretch her record of straight-sets wins at Roland Garros to 10 matches.
Swiatek reeled off 11 of the last 13 games and will next face Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk.
American 17-year-old Coco Gauff made the last 16 for the first time when compatriot Jennifer Brady retired with a foot injury after dropping the first set.