Federer Battles Past Wawrinka, Sets Nadal SF Clash At Roland Garros
After a rain delay that lasted more than an hour, Federer surged past fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in three hours and 35 minutes Tuesday, advancing to the semi-finals on the Parisian terre for the first time since 2012.
"I'm very happy, number one, to be back in another semi-finals of a Grand Slam. It hasn't happened in the past year or so. I had some tough losses in fourth rounds or quarters. So from that standpoint, I exceeded my expectations here," Federer said. "After missing the French for so many years, it's nice to be back in the semis, so that's a great feeling."
Federer seized early control against former World No. 3 Wawrinka, but the mishits and missed opportunities began to pile up for the 2009 titlist, as he suddenly was two Wawrinka holds away from going down two sets to one. But Federer remained calm and regained the momentum during the roller-coaster match by winning a crucial third-set tie-break, only for the adrenaline to wear off as threatening clouds sent the compatriots off the court.
Instead of faltering, though, Federer earned his second break of the match when they returned to court and after saving a break chance, punched a forehand volley into the open court to become the second-oldest man to make the semi-finals at Roland Garros, trailing only Pancho Gonzales, who was 40 in 1968.
Federer will next meet his greatest rival, 11-time champion Rafael Nadal, for the first time since 2017 Shanghai. They were set to battle in the semi-finals of this year’s BNP Paribas Open, but Nadal withdrew due to an injury. Their 39th FedEx ATP Head2Head clash (Nadal leads 23-15) will be their first on clay since 2013 Rome.
"Now I have the match with Rafa, and I'm clearly excited," Federer said. "I hope I can recover well in the next couple days, which I'm sure I will, and I'll give it my best shot on Friday."
Perhaps it’s fitting that Federer’s quarter-final victory came against Wawrinka, who ousted him in the last eight four years ago in straight sets. Federer now leads his good friend 23-3 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head, but entering the match the 37-year-old only had a 4-3 advantage on clay.
The third seed struggled converting break points, winning just two of 18 in the match, as Wawrinka consistently was aggressive to take matters into his own hands. But Federer held his nerve in the tie-breaks, dropping only two combined service points in both of them.
At the start of the match, Federer was cruising along on serve, using variety on the backhand side — going big, finding the short crosscourt angle, and varying the rhythm of rallies with a short chip — to play on his terms. But the 101-time tour-level titlist missed out on his first eight chances of the match as Wawrinka showed no fear in going for it under pressure.
Federer vs. Wawrinka Stats
|Stat||Roger Federer||Stan Wawrinka|
|Break Points Converted||2/18||2/5|
Those missed chances nearly came back to haunt Federer, as Wawrinka, the three-time Grand Slam champion, converted his first two break points, using the first to win the second set and the next one to take a 4-3 lead in the third set. Suddenly, Federer began to mishit shots as he fell further behind the baseline, and Wawrinka added even more juice to his powerful strokes to overwhelm his compatriot in rallies and put more pressure on the World No. 3 to go for more from tougher positions.
But Wawrinka, who needed five hours and nine minutes to win his fourth-round match against reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, finally cracked at 4-3 in the third. In the seventh different game in which he faced a break point, the No. 24 seed decelerated on a low forehand approach shot near the service line, and the ball sailed well long to allow Federer back on serve.
More From #RG19
* Great Escape: 10 Years On, Federer Reflects On Paris Comeback
* Why Federer Should Not Be Counted Out At #RG19
* Wawrinka After Five-Hour Epic: 'This Is Why I Came Back'
* Carrying On The One-Handed Backhand
And from there, Federer began to find his service rhythm and work his way back into rallies again, throwing in more drop shots and using a timely stretch backhand drop volley in the ensuing tie-break to take the lead before closing out the third set.
When the Swiss stars returned to Court Suzanne Lenglen at 3-3 in the fourth set, Federer made clear his intentions to run around his backhand to hit forehands on second-serve returns, after missing many backhand returns long earlier on. And that strategy paid dividends, as he broke for 5-4, before saving a break point with a reflexed drop volley and serving out his victory. Federer is the oldest major semi-finalist since 39-year-old Jimmy Connors at the 1991 US Open.
"It wasn't super explosive on clay, especially if he plays from far behind, and I also decided to play from far back. So we found a rhythm, which maybe okay for both of us. I don't know if it would have been better for me to play more to the front and take the ball sooner," Federer said. "But it worked, and I'm happy about that. But I'm not surprised he reached that level, because we know how strong he is both mentally and physically."
Wawrinka, who earned his 500th tour-level win with his third-round triumph against Grigor Dimitrov, was pursuing his fourth Roland Garros semi-final. The 34-year-old underwent two knee surgeries in August 2017, and he has been battling his way back into form ever since, falling as low as No. 263 in the ATP Rankings last June. Wawrinka will return to the Top 20 next Monday.
"Only a few points could have changed a little bit the match, but I think I was playing well in those moments. He was a bit more aggressive," Wawrinka said. "This court was quite fast and slippery. It was important to be aggressive, to be inside the court, and he did that better than me.
"He was playing the way I expect him to play against me and on clay court," Wawrinka added. "There is no surprise anymore in what we are doing. It's just about who's going to play the best in those important points, and he did that better than me today."
Did You Know?