By Jane Voigt
So what’s up with all these big comebacks?
Roger Federer had not planned, like any other player would not have planned, to get his name on the marquee with these comeback-from-two-sets-down stars: Tommy Robredo (3 time winner), Tommy Haas (the slayer of John Isner), Gilles Simon (3rd round against American Sam Querrey), and from today, Stanislaus Wawrinka. He defeat Richard Gasquet.
After Federer set the tone of the match yesterday, thumping the No. 15 seed Simon in set one, expectations on Court Philipe Chatrier pointed to an early evening. Another snappy 3-set and go-home win from the 17-time Major champion … Roger Federer was about to be served.
Then he stumbled at 3-3 in the second, catching his right toe. He went down hard.
He admitted to the media that it bothered him, but didn’t linger on the point. “I didn’t hurt myself or anything. But maybe I did lose that touch of confidence. And then I was out of the match there for a bit.”
His concentration was so misplaced he won only 20% of the next thirteen games — that’s 3 games.
Simon seized the day, shifting his game to a level rarely seen. He took the ball early. He connected with hard, deep shots. He put the ball away, when his natural counter-puncher style repeatedly returned shots for yet another and, yes, another rally. Simon lulls opponents away from their strengths, like a mother rocks her baby to sleep.
“More credit to him,” Federer said quickly, after his admission. “Maybe it gave him a mental boost. He had to figure things out. I’m happy I found a way and made the right decisions and was able to sort of tidy up my game a little bit, not spray that many unforced errors. Stayed calm under pressure, and it’s always fun being part of matches like this.”
Roger Federer is a master of the mandatory press conference. He gives away little, weaving sentences like a lyricist leads a music lover through a ballad. His mastery is akin to Simon’s adeptness to lull players into a game they never intended to enter.
Federer woke up in the crucial fourth set, breaking to go up 4-2. By that point Simon’s dominance had grown but was not unruly. Federer was not about to bow out before the quarterfinals. The last time he lost before a quarterfinal at a Major was in the third round of 2004 Roland Garros to Gustavo Kuerten, “Guga” at Roland Garros. That’s nine years in a row he has played through hundreds of opponents to give himself another chance at a slam title. He lives for that, in his tennis career.
Federer won 61 46 26 62 63. The match tested him.
He paced the back court, head down, as French fans went berserk — “Simon” “Simon” — they chanted. “You know while you’re walking in the back [court] you tell yourself that’s exactly why I work hard for; I’m going to be strong, stronger than him. I’m going to be good here. I’m going to fight and leave everything on the court. That’s what I guess I was telling myself at times, as well.”
His win marked the 36th consecutive time he will have made a quarterfinal appearance at a Major, and his 900th career match win.
Gasquet manhandled Wawrinka in the first two sets, as Wawrinka amped up his disappointment with line calls. He raised his voice with Chair-umpire Carlos Ramos, demanding he oust a linesman who had made two flagrant errors of judgement, according to Stan, the last a delayed ‘out’ call against him.
Then he hit a switch, looking refreshed after his outbursts. His mission to win had begun.
The outcome probably crushed Gasquet. He had lost in the fourth round for three successive years.
“I have a little pain in my leg at the moment,” he said. “But more in my soul for sure.”
For the first time two Swiss players will compete in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. The outcome would have been more pleasing to the French had Simon and Gasquet won. Two French players have not advanced to the quarterfinals in Paris for 23 years.
In contrast to Federer’s grand record of 36-straight quarterfinals, this will be Wawrinka’s first at Roland Garros. He has never been beyond a quarterfinal at any Major. He will be tested, too. His opponent … Rafael Nadal.