More from last night ...
Darkness halts Stan's march to R4
2015 champion beats Grigor Dimitrov in three tantalisingly tight sets.
What a way to notch up a 500th Tour-level win.
After three hours and 16 minutes of tightly contested, often brilliant play across two days, Stan Wawrinka edged out Grigor Dimitrov to progress to the fourth round at Roland-Garros for the eighth time in his career.
And the shot that set up his second match point, the one he converted to secure this confidence-restoring win? A glorious, crowd-thrilling, one-handed backhand down the line, of course. Welcome back, Stan the Man.
“It’s always my favourite shot, let's put it this way. This was an important one, at an important moment, so I'm happy I did it again today,” he smiled, acknowledging the energy he drew from his fervent supporters in the cauldron that is No.1 Court. “Being on that court, which was full, and crazy, was something really special. For years I have played on No.1 and have no memory, but in these two days I have played a very special match that I will remember all my life.”
The 7-6(4), 7-6(4), 7-6(8) victory will soon be consigned to the statistical record as a straight-sets win for the Swiss – giving him a 5-4 lead in the head-to-head encounters with Dimitrov – but this belies a finely balanced contest between two superb shot-makers that thrilled purists and patriots alike.
“It was another great match after the run against [Christian] Garin. Against Grigor, it was a really tough battle. We both played well. I'm happy to have won the three tiebreaks. Today I saved some set points. I served for the match. It was an important victory for me.”
On the court nicknamed the Bullring, the atmosphere was utterly gladiatorial both in the two hours, five minutes of play on Friday evening and again in concluding 71 minutes on Saturday afternoon. When the match stopped due to bad light on Friday, even the pigeons had started wheeling around the stadium above the dizzying undulations of many Mexican waves, and both players had begun to interact vocally with the crowd. “Come on baby Federer,” someone called out to Dimitrov. “Do I look like a baby?” he answered testily.
Play resumed on Saturday under scorching sunshine with both determined to implement an aggressive game plan. Wawrinka was the first to break in the ninth game. Twice he was two points away from snatching a potential 6-4 victory, only for Dimitrov to break back and continue the exchange of ferocious ground strokes until the inevitable tiebreaker.
At 3-1 up, Dimitrov could have suffered déjà vu. He had also been 3-1 up in the first-set and lost the impetus; this time he stretched the lead to 5-1. Oh la la la la la; Swiss fans braced themselves. The score inched to 6-2 but, one by one, Wawrinka saved four set points and march resiliently to victory.
Wawrinka, the 2015 Roland-Garros champion and runner-up here in 2017, has back-from-the-dead history on the Paris clay - his title run five years ago came after a first-round exit in 2014. The match statistics reveal a bounce-back ability as both players went for their shots, often redefining the word “irretrievable”.
Dimitrov was superior in first serve accuracy and in break points won (68% to Wawrinka’s 50%; 50% to his 15%), but the No.24 seed fired 14 aces at key moments and accrued an amazing 57 winners (to the Bulgarian’s 36), alongside 60 unforced errors.
Ultimately only six points separated the two former world No.3s, who entered the tournament ranked No.28 and No.46 respectively, but the take-home for the winner was always going to be more than progression through the draw. And it was Wawrinka who took away confidence with a capital C, ready for a tantalising fourth-round meeting with Stefanos Tsitsipas.
How much relief did he feel?
None, “because when I had regained the level I wanted to have physically, tennistically, the relief was already there. I'm happy to be in the round of 16, but it's not the aim of my tournaments when I enter. I'm not satisfied with this. I want to have more, and I hope to be able to do that on Sunday.”