French Open: Ruthless Rafael Nadal powers past Cameron Norrie, Roger Federer overcomes Dominik Koepfer

Roger Federer has reached the last 16 of the French Open but needed all of his fighting qualities to scrap his way past Germany's Dominik Koepfer on an empty and eerie Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday (NZ time).

The 39-year-old 20-time Grand Slam champion was ragged at times and lacked his usual zip against the tenacious Koepfer, but the eighth seed slogged his way to a 7-6(5) 6-7(3) 7-6(4) 7-5 victory with local time approaching 1am.

It was Federer's first taste of a Grand Slam match played without fans, courtesy of Paris's 9pm COVID-19 curfew, and it was not an experience he seemed to enjoy, as he was given a torrid time by the 27-year-old left-hander.

Federer was rattled by the heavy hitting of the world No.59 but dug deep to win the night's opening tiebreak, helped by a Koepfer double fault at a crucial moment.

Federer piled on the pressure at the start of the second set and secured an early break. But Koepfer broke back and after breaks were traded again, the set reached a tiebreak.

Koepfer moved 6-2 ahead, as mistakes flowed off Federer's racket and he levelled the match thanks to another unforced error from the Swiss, who was playing only his sixth match in 17 months due to knee surgery.

Federer, the 2009 champion, was wobbling when he dropped serve early in the third but battled back from 2-4 down and, after missing a set point in the 12th game, he reeled off the last three points of the third tiebreak.

Sensing his chance of taking the biggest scalp of his career was slipping away, Koepfer's temper boiled over, when his service was broken at 1-1 in the fourth and he was docked a point for spitting on the court, after a close call went against him.

The former American college player was not done though and Federer could not find the extra gear to shake off his man, dropping serve in the next game.

Federer showed amazing reflexes to return a smash when Koepfer served at 5-5 and pounced for a crucial break as Koepfer struck a forehand over the baseline.

He then held serve to claim victory, albeit an ugly one, and set up a clash with Italian Matteo Berrettini.

Earlier, Spanish great Rafael Nadal barely broke sweat, as he continued his quest for a 21st Grand Slam with a brutal 6-3 6-3 6-3 dismantling of Briton Cameron Norrie.

Rafael Nadal on his way to victory against Cameron Norrie.
Rafael Nadal on his way to victory against Cameron Norrie. Photo credit: Getty

Nadal, who won a record-extending 13th title at Roland Garros last year, extended his run at the claycourt Grand Slam to an unbelievable 30 sets won in a row.

He last dropped a set against Dominic Thiem in the 2019 final and although he was broken twice by world No.45 Norrie in the second set, another straight-sets victory always appeared the most likely outcome.

Nadal served out the one-sided contest in a shade over two hours, staying fresh for the toughest part of his campaign.

He sent down 35 winners, including three aces, and broke Norrie's serve six times in the match as he stormed into round four, where he will battle Italy's Jannik Sinner, the 18th seed, for a place in the quarter-finals.

Nadal beat the teenager in three sets last year after being taken to the limit in the opening set, and seeing how thorough he was against Norrie, there is little chance that he will take Sinner lightly.

"It is going to be a tough one," Nadal says of Sinner, who last year did not hesitate to pile the pressure on the Spaniard's forehand - his biggest weapon "He's young. He's improving every week. He has big shots.

"I need to be solid. I need to be aggressive too, because if not it's very difficult. I need to make him play from tough positions, and I can't make a lot of mistakes."

Nadal admitted that he could have had a better draw.

"Jannik is not the best fourth round, without a doubt, no, he's a dangerous one," he notes. 

"He's young. He's a great player. We know each other well. So let's see."

The pair met a second time when Nadal beat Sinner 7-5 6-4 after rallying from behind in both sets in the Rome Masters this year. 

"I need to be ready to play at very high level of tennis, to have chances to be in the quarter-finals," Nadal says.