By Danielle Rossingh
PARIS, June 2 (Reuters) - Former champion Stan Wawrinka thumped 62 winners as he outlasted Stefanos Tsitsipas in a bruising five-hour “battle of the backhands” on Sunday to reach the French Open quarter-finals.
Wawrinka beat the sixth-seeded Greek 7-6(6) 5-7 6-4 3-6 8-6 to set up a meeting with fellow Swiss Roger Federer who cruised past Leonardo Mayer of Argentina in straight sets.
Wawrinka, who beat Federer in straight sets en route to the 2015 French Open title, clinched victory on his second match point, with a backhand that landed on the line on a sun-soaked Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Both armed with a blistering single-handed backhand, the match between the 34-year-old Wawrinka, three-times Grand Slam winner, and the 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who had been trying to become the first Greek player to reach the Roland Garros quarter-finals, more than lived up to its billing.
Having dropped the first set on a double fault, the swashbuckling Greek won a dramatic 77-minute second on his sixth set point, having squandered a 3-1 and 5-3 lead.
The best rally of the match came during a see-saw 13-minute game at 5-4 in the second set, with Wawrinka ripping groundstrokes and smashes as Tsitsipas retrieved.
The Swiss, who had two knee surgeries in 2017, prevailed with a backhand drop shot that touched the net on the 23rd shot, to a standing ovation from the crowd.
“That’s the kind of emotion I was practising to have back, for sure. Playing in front of such a crowd, such a big atmosphere, five-set match in Grand Slam,” Wawrinka said.
“That’s the reason why I came back from the surgery in the first time, it is because I love and enjoy to play in front of people, to play in the biggest tournaments you can play. Today was something really special.”
After splitting the third and fourth sets, the 28th-seeded Wawrinka stamped his authority on his younger opponent, who had squandered three break points at 5-5 in the decider.
Serving to stay in the match at 6-7, Tsitsipas dumped a forehand into the net to hand his opponent two match points and Wawrinka took advantage to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final since the 2017 French Open where he went on to make the final.
Next up for Wawrinka is 20-times Grand Slam champion Federer.
“Obviously, it leaves a trace. It’s heavy. We’ll see how I recover, because it takes its toll and I’ll have to recover before Tuesday,” Wawrinka said.
Reporting by Danielle Rossingh, editing by Ed Osmond