For at least a couple of hours this afternoon, a section of Paris will become Little Switzerland, as the French Open quarter-finals pair Roger Federer with his compatriot Stanislas “The Manislas” Wawrinka. Perhaps the two best Swiss players in the history of the men’s game, the pair most famously teamed up to take gold in the doubles at the Beijing Olympics of 2008. That both are still active in 2019 is a surprise. That they have fought their way to the last eight, and now face off for a semi-final place is even more so.
Both of these men have won the title once before: Federer in 2009, and “Stan” six years later. Whichever of the two wins this match will find themselves a single win away from another final, albeit that they will have to find a way past King of Clay, Rafael Nadal to get there. Federer, aged 37, is enjoying a surprisingly long Indian summer to his career, seeded #3 in the tournament. Wawrinka, three years his opponent’s junior, is battling back from an injury-riddled few years and is seeded 24th (with a World Ranking of 344 standing testament to a tough recent past). There is every chance this will be the last time these two face off at a major tournament – so let’s have a look at the best bets for this match.
Age has not withered Federer
As the game of tennis has grown more powerful, there has been a sense in recent decades that the sport was increasingly a young man’s game – Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic all won their first major titles by the age of 21. However, those same three players are the top three seeds here at the ages of 37, 33 and 32 respectively. In Federer’s case, his longevity has stemmed in no small part from his tendency (and ability) to pick and choose the tournaments he plays. When you’ve won twenty Grand Slam events, you can do that. However, to still be playing at his level when you’re three years shy of 40 takes more than good scheduling.
A more important reason for RF’s continued involvement in the latter stages of major tournaments is his style of play. A peerless ability to select, and play, the right shot at the right time has meant Federer needs to run less than most of his opponents; he’s less likely to get tired and better-equipped to keep playing well even if fatigue does set in. Under the sun in Paris, with temperatures likely to stay in the mid-20s, this could be a deciding factor. Betfair have odds of 3/1 on Federer to win 3-1, and those are persuasive given the conditions.
Wawrinka facing a long afternoon – again
Stan Wawrinka has three majors to his name – that’s as many as Andy Murray – and is deemed by experts to have one of the best backhands in the modern game. Yet, perhaps because he’s the second best player to come out of Switzerland, he’s never really achieved the prominence that his quality has deserved. He clearly has the work ethic – beset by injury in their thirties, most players would have hung up their racquets – even if the consistency has occasionally deserted him. If you had told “Stan” a decade ago that he’d be playing this match for a place in the semi-finals, he’d surely have fancied his chances against an ageing compatriot.
That would have been before the last-16 matches in which Federer powered through a straight-sets win over Leonardo Mayer, losing just eight games as he went. Wawrinka, for his part, played out a punishing five-setter with Stefanos Tsitsipas, finally putting away the sixth seed 8-6 in the final set. An impressive win, and one in which he outlasted an opponent fourteen years his junior – but going the distance in this way is not an ideal way to prepare for a match against Federer given the latter’s economy of movement. With William Hill, you can get 13/8 on the GOAT to win the first set either 6-3 or 6-4; those are very decent odds given recent form.
No humiliation for Wawrinka, but no win either
Through four matches at this year’s Open, Roger Federer has not dropped a single set. Only once, in fact, has he even been taken to a tie-break, and that was in the third of a straight-set win over Norway’s Casper Ruud in the last 32. He’s in form, and he’s fresh – and that’s a devastating combination. Wawrinka is certainly a cut above any opponent Federer has played so far, so this match may not be as straightforward – but it would be a shock if the elder player was to lose here. We’d expect the 2015 champion to take a set here, but that’s all we’d give him in light of his heavier workload in the last round.
This makes Dafabet’s “total games won” market interesting, as they have Wawrinka pegged to win around 18.5 games. If we allow him a set, that means he would need to win another 12-13 games across the other three – and given how quickly Federer has been taking care of business so far in this tournament, we’d back the “under” in this case, which is priced at 19/20.