Roger Federer was given a huge scare by Gilles Simon before fighting back to reach the French Open quarter-finals.
The Swiss was looking to reach the last eight at a 36th consecutive grand slam, a record dating back to Wimbledon in 2004 and only five times before in that run had he been behind going into the fourth set.
In the end, Federer did what he has done on those other five occasions, recovering to win 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, but there was plenty to give hope to his next opponent, sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
There was no indication of the drama to come when Federer, who was bidding for his 900th tour-level victory, won six straight games to win the first set, looking in fine fettle and even hitting a winner around the net post.
The pair met in Rome two weeks ago, when Simon won just three games, but the Frenchman has given Federer trouble in the past.
He won both of their first two matches, which came in 2008, and then took the Swiss to five sets in the second round of the Australian Open in 2011.
Yesterday’s match turned in the middle of the second set. Federer took a tumble and, although he was not hurt, it seemed to upset the rhythm of the second seed, who rarely suffers such indignity.
Simon broke immediately to lead 4-3 and then levelled the match on his first set point when Federer fired a backhand long.
There is almost nowhere where Federer is more loved than Roland Garros, yet the crowd were overwhelmingly cheering for Simon.
And it was to get even better for the 28-year-old, who broke again for 3-2 in the third set before winning the set with his fifth game in a row.
Federer was helping his opponent out with quite a number of errors but Simon, who needed five sets to defeat Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Querrey, was showing what a talented player he is.
Federer was in trouble, but the 31-year-old has dug himself out of deeper holes in the past and set about turning things back in his favour.
The crowd had returned to his side now as well, perhaps having thought twice about wanting to lose their favourite so early, and Federer clenched his fist as he broke for 4-2 in the fourth.
The 2009 champion looked in complete control as he reeled off seven straight games before Simon dug in with an admirable hold for 1-3 in the decider.
It was not quite over, and the Frenchman had two chances to retrieve the break with Federer serving for the match, but his serve saved the Swiss and he wrapped up victory in two hours and 59 minutes when Simon put a backhand wide.
Meanwhile, Tommy Robredo was much happier with his place in the quarter-finals than his place in history after a remarkable win over Nicolas Almagro. For the third successive match, Robredo fought back from two sets down, matching a feat achieved only once before in grand slam tennis, by Frenchman Henri Cochet at Wimbledon back in 1927. Robredo, though, said: “I don’t really care, frankly. What is very important is that today I won this match. I won a big match against a player who defeated me five times. And the rest is only records. I played a player who is incredible on clay. I’m not thinking about history.”
Almagro, the 11th seed, looked in complete control at two sets up and was a break ahead in the third, fourth and fifth as well, but he could not put his fellow Spaniard away and the 31-year-old fought back to win 6-7 (5/7), 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Robredo sobbed into the clay as the crowd chanted his name, and he admitted, at 4-1 down in the third set, he could not have imagined what was to come.
He said: “I know players like me, when you dream, you always dream to win the trophy or to win the match, but you never realise that you are going to win being two sets down and 4-1 down, and 4-2 in the fourth and 2-0 in the fifth. That’s too much. That’s too many hours thinking. And, me, I prefer to think I win 6-3, 6-4 ,6-3 and then the dream, it finishes quicker. But, anyway, it’s a lovely dream. And, hopefully, I can remember it a lot of times because during the year you don’t have that many experiences like that.”
Robredo’s achievements are all the more noteworthy because, this time last year, he was returning to the sport after seven months out following hamstring surgery and ranked 470th in the world.
He said: “Since I got the surgery, I’ve never had this pain again. I just repaired my body and now I’m okay.
“I already forgot that. I already erased that from my mind. Obviously, it was an experience that I had to go through, and in life all the experiences are good. I think that you learn a lot more from a bad experience than from a good one.”
Robredo next plays fellow Spaniard and fourth seed David Ferrer, who continued his cruise through the draw with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 victory over South Africa’s Kevin Anderson. Also through to the last eight is French favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has looked in fine form so far in Paris and beat Serbia’s Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.