PARIS – Former champion Stan Wawrinka downed Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas in the longest match of this year’s French Open on Sunday to set up a quarter-final clash with Roger Federer.
Wawrinka sealed a stunning 7-6 (8/6), 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6 fourth-round victory with a magnificent winner from yards behind the baseline after five hours and nine minutes on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
He has a 23-3 losing head-to-head record against close friend and fellow Swiss Federer.
“It’s incredible, lots of emotions. Thanks to all the fans for staying and (the) support,” said the 34-year-old Wawrinka after the third longest match in the last 20 years at the French Open.
“It’s for these kind of emotions that I live for after coming back from injury.”
It is the first time Wawrinka has reached a Grand Slam quarter-final since losing to Rafael Nadal in the 2017 Roland Garros final, and completes an amazing turnaround from 12 months ago.
Last year, the three-time Grand Slam champion, following injury struggles, lost in the first round to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and dropped out of the world’s top 250.
The 20-year-old Tsitsipas missed out on the chance for a rematch with Federer, having beaten the 20-time major title winner in the Australian Open fourth round earlier this year.
Wawrinka saved 22 of the 27 break points he faced in the longest match of both players’ careers, including all eight in the final set as sixth seed Tsitsipas pushed for victory to no avail.
The tone was set early on, with Wawrinka giving Tsitsipas the first of many ‘thumbs up’ signs after an incredible passing shot on the slide by the youngster.
But he slipped up at the wrong moment, double faulting on set point in a tie-break, having missed a set point himself just seconds before when Wawrinka unleashed a trademark backhand winner.
Both players’ serves suddenly became vulnerable after the 12 successive holds in the first set, as the pair shared five breaks in the second, with Tsitsipas broken when serving for the set as his opponent nailed another cross-court backhand.
Tsitsipas saw five set points come and go in a dramatic 10th game, but took his sixth in the 12th as a barrage of massive forehands proved too hot for Wawrinka to handle.
Another high-quality set, which featured both players applauding each other’s shot-making, saw Wawrinka move one set from victory just after the match passed the three-hour mark, with the Swiss making only four unforced errors.
Despite the mutual respect between the players, they both struggled to keep their emotions in check at times during the tense encounter, with Tsitsipas smashing his racquet and Wawrinka kicking a ball into the crowd.
Tsitsipas was left sprawled on the clay after tripping while attempting a diving volley in the fourth set.
The Greek was down, but not out of the match, though, as he promptly saved two break points en route to a 3-0 advantage.
Wawrinka broke back but failed to consolidate that effort, and Tsitsipas ensured that the match of the tournament so far would go the distance.
The drama only increased in the final set, as Tsitsipas saw Wawrinka dig deep to save break points in the first, fifth and 11th games, with the players still locked at 6-6 as the tussle hit five hours.
But Wawrinka had the final say in stunning fashion, with Tsitsipas looking sure to save a second match point, by scooping a backhand onto the outside of the line, despite Tsitsipas contesting the call.AFP