Five Thoughts on Day 10: Federer's Decision to Play on Clay Was a Great One

Jon Wertheim checks in from Paris to give his five thoughts on Day 10 of the French Open. 
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PARIS — Some quick thoughts on Day 10 of the French Open... 

• Before this year, Roger Federer’s last French Open match was a defeat to his friend, Swiss countryman and metaphorical little brother Stan Wawrinka. That was 2015. That was a quarterfinal. That was a match played on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. Since then, Federer has picked up three more majors, and Wawrinka would go to win the French title that year, as well as the U.S. Open the following year. Here they were today, ages 37 and 34, playing each for the 26th time. Again, a French Open quarterfinal. Again, Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Same circumstances, different result. For a player who waited until March to announce his intentions to play on clay, Federer looked thoroughly comfortable on the surface. In a spellbinding match, Federer pushed his record against Wawrinka to 23-3, prevailing 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4. He looked nothing like a 37-year-old dad, much less a man pondering retirement. He validated his scheduling decision. And tennis gets Federer/Nadal Bowl XXXIX on Friday. Because….

• As Federer was laboring with and against Wawrinka, Nadal was in clayGOAT mode, simply smothering Kei Nishikori and beating him in every facet of the game. Nadal has, of course, won this event 11 times before. Today he offered a vivid demonstration of how and why, making a top-10 player look like a hapless hitting partner. After an hour, Nadal had surrendered two games. The final score 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, still managed to understate how lopsided the match was. Note: Nadal has now reached his 12th French Open semifinal. He has never lost here in that round. Or the one after.

• Spare a thought (or at least a bullet point) for Stan Wawrinka. Less than a year ago, he was playing on a protected ranking and outside the top 200, the vestige of serious knee surgery. Though clearly compromised, Wawrinka played a full schedule as soon as he was cleared to. As is typical of his fighting spirit, Wawrinka powered and muscled his way back into the top 20, where he will rank come Monday. Two days ago, he won the match of the tournament, beating No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 8-6 in the fifth set. It reinforced why he chose to return, but it was brutal trench warfare, encompassing 389 points and more than five hours. Wawrinka fought gamely today and played for 3:35 and more than 300 points. He lost. But he won.

• Today was a glorious day. Then, for an hour we got a slate sky, driving rain, thunder and lightning. Then, after an hour—as if suddenly remembering that it was early June in Paris and there was tennis to be played—the sky cleared and we had a beautiful evening. This was as good a metaphor as any for Sloane Stephens, who is capable for gorgeous, crystalline tennis … and equally of cloudy tennis. Two days ago she played an authoritative match and beat former champ Garbine Muguruza. Today, she never got into the match and was routed by Jo Konta 6-1, 6-4. All credit to Konta who played a straightforward, mature match, at one point winning 18 straight points on her serve. Before this year, she had never won a French Open match; now she is two matches from the title.

• Sadly, it carried a whiff anticlimax. But after Federer beat Wawrinka, there was another high stakes match played on Court Lenglen. Two first-time French Open quarterfinalists did battle. Neither was well-known to the casual fan. But both deserved to be here. Nineteen-year-old Marketa Vondrousova leads the WTA in wins since the Australian Open. Petra Martic, 28, leads the WTA in clay-court wins this year. In the end, Vondrousova won 7-6, 7-5 to reach her first Slam semifinal.