PARIS – Roger Federer kept accumulating break points and then frittering them away against Stan Wawrinka in the French Open quarterfinals, failing to convert 16 of his initial 17 chances.
Then, after a 75-minute rain delay Tuesday, Federer got his 18th opportunity to try to break – and he made it count. Soon enough, in his first trip to Roland Garros since 2015, Federer would be wrapping up a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over Wawrinka, his friend and Swiss Olympic and Davis Cup teammate, to make his way to the semifinals.
And what a semifinal it will be: On Friday, Federer will meet old rival Rafael Nadal, the 11-time French Open champion. It will be their 39th career meeting and their sixth in Paris. Nadal is 5-0 against Federer at the Grand Slam tournament he has dominated and leads 23-15 head-to-head overall.
“My next opponent is not too bad. He can play on clay, unfortunately,” a smiling Federer joked to the crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen. “What a pleasure, actually. If I decided to come back to play on clay, it was maybe to play Rafa.”
There was very little drama in Nadal’s quarterfinal, a 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 stroll against No. 7 Kei Nishikori.
Federer vs. Wawrinka, meanwhile, lived up to the billing, a 3 1/2-hour tussle between a couple of guys who go way back. Coming in, Federer held a 22-3 edge in their career meetings, but Wawrinka knew this: All three of his victories had come on red clay, including four years ago in the same round and on this same court at Roland Garros. That was the last time Federer entered the French Open; he missed it with a bad back in 2016, then sat out the full clay portion of the schedule the next two years to prepare for grass and hard courts.
Now he’s back and has dropped only one set so far. At 37, Federer is the oldest semifinalist at the French Open since 40-year-old Pancho Gonzalez in 1968.
Federer and Wawrinka were locked in a taut fourth set when the clouds overhead grew thick and charcoal-colored. Thunder rumbled nearby. It was tough to see, and there are no artificial lights. A couple of rain drops began to fall. Shortly after play was suspended, a real storm arrived. But it didn’t last long.
When action resumed, Federer needed only 10 minutes to take control, getting his second break of the match by smacking a big cross-court forehand to a corner that Wawrinka couldn’t handle. It was 5-4, and Federer only needed to hold serve once to end it.
That turned out to be a tad complicated. He double-faulted for the only two times in the entire match, once on his second match point. He was forced to deflect a break point for Wawrinka, doing so with a serve-and-volley winner. And then, finally, on his third match point, Federer closed it out with a volley, then hugged Wawrinka at the net.
The quarterfinals on the other half of the men’s draw are Wednesday: No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 5 Alexander Zverev, and No. 4 Dominic Thiem vs. No. 10 Karen Khachanov.
In the women’s quarterfinals, 26th-seeded Johanna Konta eliminated 2018 runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4, grabbing 21 of the last 22 points she served.
Konta is the first British woman in the French Open’s final four since Jo Durie in 1983 – and, based on her previous track record, quite a surprise to make it this far in Paris.
Until this year, Konta had entered the clay-court major four times, losing in the first round each time. So she has gone from 0-4 before to 5-0 in 2019.
“I have never doubted my ability to play on the surface,” said Konta, also a semifinalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon but yet to make it to a Slam final.
She improved to 3-0 against 2017 U.S. Open champion Stephens, all this season.
In the semifinals, Konta will play either No. 31 Petra Martic of Croatia or 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova.
“I’ve always said that whenever I step out onto the court, I’m always going to have a chance. I’m always going to have a shot,” Konta said. “I don’t think any player on tour can go on court against me and feel like they’ve definitely got it.”