The Swiss superstar fought back against Adrian Mannarino, before the Frenchman retired at the start of the fifth set, unable to put any weight on his right leg following a slip behind the baseline.
Federer was level with Mannarino, who was celebrating his 33rd birthday, at 6-4, 6-7(3), 3-6, 6-2 after two hours and 44 minutes of play on Centre Court.
At 2-4 in the fourth set, with Federer serving at 0/15, Mannarino slipped when split-stepping behind the baseline and the Frenchman subsequently required on-court treatment for a right knee complaint. Mannarino attempted to play on, but at the start of the fifth set called time on his seventh ATP Head2Head meeting against Federer.
“It’s awful,” said Federer, in an on-court interview. “It shows that one shot can change the outcome of a match, a season, a career. I wish him all the best and I hope he recovers quickly so we see him back on the courts. He could have won the match at the end. Obviously he was the better player, so I definitely got a bit lucky.
“You don’t get many walkovers throughout a career and you try also not to have it happen to yourself. It’s a reminder how quickly it goes. But of course, I’m obviously happy I can get another chance for another match here. I worked very hard and at the end I enjoyed myself out here today. It was great fun until the end, obviously.”
Federer ran through the first set by winning 22 of 26 service points, completing the 39-minute opener with a backhand winner. But the unorthodox nature of Mannarino’s game meant that he never let the Swiss settle into his match rhythm.
Four straight forehand errors from Federer handed Mannarino a 6/1 lead in the second set tie-break, and soon the World No. 41 came within two points of a 3-0 lead in the third set. Federer, with just eight matches under his belt this year coming into The Championships, did well to respond, but in the sixth game the 39-year-old’s serve was broken to love.
While Mannarino sealed a two-sets-to-one lead with a forehand volley winner, once Federer saved a break point in the opening game of the fourth set he turned into a different player. By hitting his spots on serve, Federer won 11 of the next 12 points for 3-0 advantage.
“I tried to cut down the length of points a little bit,” said Federer. “I thought he found a nice groove from the baseline. He’s famous with that shovel backhand. He creates a lot of problems for so many players and he did the same again today on the grass against me. That’s why I tried to maybe cut down on the length of points a little bit.
“It worked well, and once I got the break, obviously, I was able to maybe loosen up a little bit up and then everything ended. At the end, it was a very up and down match overall I thought. We were both… trying to figure out who could enjoy the baseline a little bit more than the other. But I felt like I had to adjust my game more than he had to, and that was credit to him of course.”