Stan Wawrinka, stood in his countryman’s way from yet another episode of ‘Fedal’ – and this proved to be Federer’s toughest encounter yet. Wawrinka was coming off three straight days on the terre battue, having had a hold-over day in his win over Grigor Dimitrov and that was followed by a gruelling five-hour plus match with Stefanos Tsitsipas, where the Swiss outlasted the lithe youngster. Not bad from someone coming back from knee surgery.
Of course, his head to head against Federer was supremely lopsided – save for his three wins on the clay, including his run to the 2015 title. Was there a chance that we could see another upset?
Wawrinka was having to save break points from the get go, but even with nary a sniff of one on the Federer serve, he hung on to force a tiebreak, with Federer edging it. It might have taken a while for Wawrinka to get his chance to break Federer but sure enough he took it at the first opportunity in the second set, fending off still more. It was enough of an advantage to grab the second set so send us round the look again.
What impressed was Wawrinka’s staying power despite that long match – he broke straight back to nullify Federer in the third set, but again was pipped in the tiebreak. He fought so hard to battle against Federer’s relentless pushing, saving umpteen more break points and finally capitulating in the penultimate game of the fourth set, but to his credit made Federer work for the match, winning on his third match point.
Meanwhile Rafael Nadal routinely dispatched the five-set Samurai Kei Nishikori, who had absolutely no resistance all as the bull ran roughshod over him.
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And thus episode 39 of this rivalry rolls around. In terms of being tested, this match was Federer’s toughest by a long way, whereas Nadal’s only stumble (if you can even call it that) was a spirited resistance by David Goffin to take a set off him. Apart from that no-one has even come close.
By contrast, Federer has had three tie-breaks to contend with in otherwise largely wrinkle-free journey. And it is not to say that Federer has never beaten Nadal on clay – throughout their rivalry there are a smattering of wins on the dirt for the Swiss – but never on the hallowed court of Chatrier.
Will this time be any different? Federer has been playing a very aggressive game and has imposed his game plan for the large part. All that goes out the window though where Nadal is concerned.
As soon as the draw came out, this was the one people wanted to see – for many this will be a de facto final. It remains to be seen if the script can be changed.
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