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Wawrinka savours big atmosphere as he sets up crunch Federer clash

 

On return: Stan Wawrinka en route to his victory in France
On return: Stan Wawrinka en route to his victory in France

By Eleanor Crooks

Stan Wawrinka put himself in the reckoning for a fourth Grand Slam title with an extraordinary victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas at Roland Garros.

The pair battled for five hours and nine minutes on Court Suzanne Lenglen before Wawrinka eventually triumphed 7-6 (6) 5-7 6-4 3-6 8-6 to set up a quarter-final clash with his countryman Roger Federer.

The 2015 champion was twice a set up against the young Greek pretender, but Tsitsipas showed again what a superb competitor he is to fight back, and it was the 20-year-old who looked like he would move ahead in the deciding set.

But Wawrinka dug in to save eight break points - he saved 22 of 27 in the match - and then took his second match point when the umpire confirmed a backhand had caught the edge of the line.

The 34-year-old has battled back from knee surgery nearly two years ago and only recently has begun to show his best form again.

He said: "Playing in front of such a crowd, such a big atmosphere, five-set match in a Grand Slam, that's the reason why I came back from the surgery.

"I love and enjoy playing in front of people, to play in the biggest tournaments you can play. Today was something really special."

The emotions were very different for a devastated Tsitsipas, who said: "I feel exhausted. I've never experienced something like this. I felt very disappointed. It's a long time since I cried after a match, so emotionally it wasn't easy to handle. I will try to learn from it as much as I can.

"I was so close. I gave him room to do whatever, all those break points. I didn't play."

The true winner of the match may well turn out to be Federer, who coasted to a 6-2 6-3 6-3 victory over Leonardo Mayer and is yet to drop a set.

His last match at Roland Garros prior to this year's clay-court comeback was in the quarter-finals in 2015, when he was beaten by Wawrinka in straight sets.

"I have bad memories against Stan in 2015," said Federer. "He beat me with his terrible shorts."

Wawrinka's check shorts became one of the stories of the tournament as he went on to win his second Slam title.

Federer has won 22 of their 25 meetings overall, but Wawrinka's three victories have come on clay.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal, whose 33rd birthday is today, followed Federer onto Philippe Chatrier and matched his rival by beating Juan Ignacio Londero 6-2 6-3 6-3.

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