French Open 2011: On-fire Federer dances to new record
In defeating Wawrinka to reach another Slam quarter-final, Federer adds one more record to his arsenal
It was exactly a year ago that a line was drawn under one of Roger Federer’s most outstanding records, and it remains, by common consent, the one that most believe will never be broken.
At the 2010 French Open, Federer lost to Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals to end his semi-final Grand Slam streak at 23.
He was naturally disappointed but, ever a man to look for a silver lining, he quickly pointed out that he still had a quarter-final streak to defend. And, 12 months later, he has indeed taken that record, too.
In beating Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round at Roland Garros, Federer has overtaken the Jimmy Connors mark of 27 Open era Grand Slam quarter-finals. But there is another facet to Federer’s 28.
Connors did not play in every Major during his run, missing five French Opens and rarely playing in Australia at all, making Federer’s legacy all the more durable -and probably unbeatable.
Before the French Open began, much was made of the number of consecutive Majors in which Federer has played a part. This is his 46th in a row -an unbroken register of attendance since the first month of 2000.
And yet that still does not strike to the heart of his achievement. Only by looking at the depth as well as the length of his run is it possible to appreciate Federer’s superiority.
Since a first round exit at the French Open in 2003, he has only once fallen before the quarter-finals -in the third round at Roland Garros in 2004.
His 46 Majors comprise 16 titles, six more finals, five further semi-finals and now an additional five quarters. Now in his 13th French Open, he has notched up 248 best-of-five matches, thus far winning 217 of them.
In such a gladiatorial sport that has no time constraints, the demands of such a record on the physical and mental resilience of an individual are extreme.
He may cite a bit of luck, a lot of help from his support team and a careful structuring of his schedule and training regime.
Others, though, will also talk of his style of play, the fluidity of movement, the variety and efficiency of his shot-making, the timing and touch of his ball strike. Which brings the story nicely to his latest record-breaking match.
Federer negotiated the first-round against Feliciano Lopez with far more ease than he had done in their three-tie-breaker match in Madrid that Federer this week admitted had left him sore and tired.
This time, he made a strong statement of intent against the Spaniard with 40 winners, the last of which, his 12th ace, closed the match.
The second round, against the lowly-ranked wild card, Maxime Teixeira, gave Federer the chance to show off his flair and fluidity for the loss of just five games, and while the Roland Garros crowd may have wished for more than 84 minutes and 33 winners, the Federer panache made up for any disappointment.
The 29th seed, Janko Tipsarevic, threatened to stretch the Swiss rather more, for the Serb had lost only four games in his second match. The threat was quickly quashed by Federer in a 6-1 6-4 6-3 display of streamlined, calculated class. This time there were 37 winners, including 10 aces: the No3 seed was working like a well-oiled Rolls Royce engine.
His latest opponent, though, was his biggest challenge. Compatriot and friend Stan Wawrinka has climbed to his highest ranking in more than two years -No14 -after taking his sliding career by the scruff of the neck in 2010.
He turned to one of the best coaches in the business for some inspiration, Peter Lundgren, who also happened to be a former mentor of Federer, and Lundgren found a way to bring the inhibited Wawrinka out of his shell.
The younger Swiss man aimed, in his ninth meeting against Federer, to win his 200th career match, but the odds were always stacked against him. They had been ever since Wawrinka won the French Open junior title back in 2003 just as Federer began his record-breaking antics with his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.
The two Swiss also met at the same stage of Roland Garros last year: a straight-sets win for Federer, just as their two previous 2011 meetings had been.
So while, for two opening love service games, things stood level, the parity was short lived. Federer broke in the fourth and served another love game rounded off with an ace to lead 4-1.
A chink of light appeared briefly as Federer served for the set. Wawrinka used his expansive shot-making to pummel Federer’s backhand towards 30-30, but two big Federer serves slammed the window shut, 6-3.
It was, though, a high-quality set that yielded just four unforced errors apiece and one break point: and the men were separated by just one winner.
In the opening game of the second set, Wawrinka found himself at deuce once again. As Federer lifted an exquisite lob over his opponent’s head, the camera caught the look on Wawrinka’s face: blank resignation.
Even with his serve outperforming Federer’s, Wawrinka could not find a defence against what took on the look of death by a thousands cuts. Even the Federer backhand looked as strong as his opponent’s signature shot.
Federer pirouetted to 10 more winners while Wawrinka pounded to just four. Federer then manipulated two break points with tennis so subtle, varied and precise that they came and went with the most painless of thrusts, one in the third and one in fifth game. He served out, again to love, 6-2.
It looked to be all over bar the singing after just an hour on the clock, but Wawrinka has become a sterner character since taking up with Lundgren.
He has also shown himself to be the master of the comeback -he was two sets down against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round and, at last year’s US Open, he fought back against Andy Murray and then Sam Querrey before going down in five to Mikhail Youzhny.
So when the roars of encouragement started to bellow from the substantial Wawrinka chest, Federer knew there was work to do, and that was quickly confirmed when Wawrinka broke his opening service game.
With seven unforced errors in the first four games, Federer found himself serving at 1-4, but the purr in his engine quickly returned.
A sequence of four winners -a touch angled volley, a drop shot, an overhead smash and an off-forehand winner -reversed the momentum and, suitably intimidated, Wawrinka succumbed on his own serve.
All square at 5-5, Federer seemed determined to avoid an energy-sapping tie-breaker and unleashed a final cobra strike.
He broke in the 11th game and served out the match, with an ace, 7-5.
A glance around Philipp Chatrier revealed only smiles as though the crowd had been handed a glass of champagne before they took their seats. Even the commentary team could not resist the spell: “Here we are to watch the most attractive player in the world -and the best.”
So, on the back of four classic and classy Federer wins, the latest record fell: 28 straight Slam quarter-finals to add to the record 16 titles and record 23 consecutive semi-finals. Just to complete the picture, he also owns the record for most appearances in Slam finals: 19.
This Roland Garros, though, has been about the record-breaking run of another man: Novak Djokovic has overtaken Federer in straight match wins, 43, and will equal the Guillermo Vilas tally of 46 if he wins in Paris.
Yet he has a long way to go to match a few of Federer’s streaks: 65 on grass, 56 on hard courts, and the most runs of 20 or more wins -six of them -in the Open era, the longest of them 41.
Many elements have come together to create the unique Federer formula: balletic, economic movement, finely-tuned schedules and training, mental toughness and the right athletic build.
Federer also admits to some “good fortune” but adds, in the most telling of asides: “and got smart over the years.” One more piece, then, in the record-breaking puzzle: experience.