After Five Hours, Wawrinka Escapes Tsitsipas To Make QF
In one of the matches of the tournament – if not the year – Stan Wawrinka showed he's back.
The 34-year-old Swiss outlasted Greece's #NextGenATP star Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6 in five hours and nine minutes on Sunday at Roland Garros to win the fourth-longest match in tournament history.
.@StefTsitsipas v. @stanwawrinka is the 47th men's singles match in the Open Era to exceed five hours.— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) June 2, 2019
This is now the fourth-longest singles match in Roland Garros history. | #RG19 pic.twitter.com/IewHcZnJPk
Wawrinka, who missed the second half of the 2017 season because of knee surgeries, came through in the physical encounter to make his first Grand Slam quarter-final since 2017 Roland Garros, when he made his second Paris final (l. to Nadal).
“That's the reason why I came back from the surgery in the first place, because I love and enjoy to play in front of people, to play in the biggest tournaments you can play. Today was something really special,” Wawrinka said.
He'll face a fellow champion and friend in the last eight as Roger Federer awaits. Federer, the 2009 titlist, dismissed Argentina's Leonardo Mayer 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 in less than two hours earlier Sunday. Wawrinka trails 3-22 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, but all three of his wins came on clay, including their 2015 Roland Garros quarter-final.
“I didn't beat him many times in all my career, but I did once here,” Wawrinka said.
Wawrinka and Tsitsipas had never met before, but the matchup on Court Suzanne Lenglen quickly became must-see tennis as the two faced off in an inter-generational matchup.
Wawrinka played his best tennis since going under the knife against Tsitsipas. After a frustrating start months into his comeback, the Swiss had doubts that he'd ever return to the level that helped him win one Slam in three consecutive years – 2014-2016.
And there was Tsitsipas, the 20-year-old reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion, eager to push Wawrinka aside and show that the Greek was not only the best of the #NextGenATP, but ready to overtake a player who has dominated much of the past 10 years.
Tsitsipas stumbled first, double faulting on set point to give Wawrinka the opening set, and the Suzanne Lenglen crowd roared for their man. It was almost a “home” match for the French-speaking Wawrinka, who beat Novak Djokovic for his 2015 Roland Garros title. His fans peppered him with adorations. “I love you, Stan!” they'd say in French, or their favourite, “Allez, Stan!”
Wawrinka soaked it in, lifting his arms to encourage the chants and holding his hand to his ear, as if to say.
“I've never experienced that kind of atmosphere here in Paris on Lenglen. I always had a lot of support, but I think today was really special, and the match was amazing – five-hour match, five sets. The crowd stayed all the match,” Wawrinka said.
Tsitsipas, however, didn't stay down long, breaking three times in the second, including in the 12th game, to even the fourth-rounder. At times, the bruising contest was a game of who could first position his forehand against his opponent's backhand and keep pounding. The down-the-line backhand became a premium.
Wawrinka escaped danger early in the third, erasing three break points, and with momentum at his back, broke Tsitsipas and ran away with the set. For the match, Wawrinka would save 22 of 27 break points.
“I was so close, so close. I gave him room to do whatever he likes, all those break points. So many break points. So many,” Tsitsipas said.
But Tsitsipas broke in the sixth game of the fourth set to push it to a decider, when the match became "stop-what-you're-doing" tennis. Thousands of fans around the grounds halted in their steps, or settled into their deck chairs, and gawked at the big screens. Court Philippe Chatrier became free access for fans, but there was no mad rush as many fans opted instead to stay focused on the fifth set.
Wawrinka saved three more break points while serving at 5-5 – he'd save eight in the final set – and his slice backhand pass while Tsitsipas faced his second consecutive match point may haunt the Greek for days. Tsitsipas, charging forward, decided to let it go rather than hit the forehand volley to the open court. The ball was called in, the chair umpire inspected and confirmed, and Wawrinka returned to the Roland Garros quarter-finals.
“I was pretty sure it was in. When I hit it, I saw it was on the line. I was just hoping that the umpire would confirm it,” Wawrinka said. “So I was half a second not sure, but when I saw he was going to say it's in... it was amazing battle.”