Roger Federer is through to the QF at Roland Garros after defeating Frenchman Gilles Simon. He got there amidst high intensity drama across 5 sets packed into a compact 2 hours and 59 minutes. Federer had a sublime start, racing away to a 5-1 lead in 22 minutes before Gilles was serving to stay in the set. This one game alone went on for an eternity with Roger finally taking the set on his 5th set point. The Maestro brought up his final set point with the shot of the tournament. He hit a forehand from beyond the doubles court to whip it in around the net post as the crowd, and probably Gilles as well, took a sharp intake of breath at the audacious beauty of that shot.
The second set was more or less on track with Gilles stepping up his game a bit more, as expected. Then suddenly at 30-all with Simon serving to go up to 3-all, Roger got his toe stuck in the clay and fell on his right knee. Though the Swiss got up and continued play he clearly looked a bit rattled – in stark contrast to his fans of course who were going insane with worry. My twitter TL burst into a string of “OMG!” and “Is he ok?” “Is it the ankle?” “Is it the wrist?” along with expletives better left on my TL. Roger lost his focus and, it seemed also his confidence, and got broken for the first time in the match. Gilles, sensing an opening, quickly pounced and consolidated the serve to go up 5-3. Despite holding serve, Roger couldn’t break Simon as the Frenchman served it out and took the second set.
The third set was difficult to watch as Roger went down very quickly with a ton of unforced errors with both first and second serves deserting him. Simon broke him twice and neatly wrapped up the set in only 28 minutes, the quickest set of the match. At the end of the third set, Roger took a bathroom break and I took a break myself to splash water on my face. I will tell you right now that my match summary in terms of the tennis played, might be patchy from here on. I didn’t watch the fourth and fifth sets, at least not properly. While Roger regrouped in his break, I too regrouped in my own fan way. I kept remembering what he said in his post match interview after the win over Benneteau at Wimbledon last year. I’m paraphrasing here but I believe he said something along the lines of this: two sets down, means you’ve got to win the rest, no other option. Take it point by point; as boring as that sounds, it’s the right thing to do.
So as the fourth set kicked off, I actually repeated out loud ‘just one more point’ to my laptop screen with each shot played. I only watched the shots themselves and looked away in between to not distract myself. Oh and did I mention I muted my stream? I did. I had enough of the commentators and the crowd who were pro one player for barely a shot before screaming for the other. I know to most of you I sound like an insane person, but come on, I actually have a blog dedicated to this man; clearly I am not a very rational fan. Besides, I know that there is a group of you out there, however small, who can identify with me in some way, right?
Anyway, as great champions do, Roger turned it around. I later saw that the fourth set only took 30 minutes, even less time than the first – but to us and I’m sure to Roger as well, those 30 minutes seemed to last forever. The set started with both players holding serve till the 6th game when Simon offered 3 break points. He saved two but couldn’t save the third and Federer was up 4-2. Galvanized by his own resurgence complete with fist-pumps and ‘Come On!’ Federer played more and more aggressively. He held serve to go up 5-2 and forced Gilles to deuce as the Frenchman was serving to stay in the set. Two amazing Federer forehands led Simon to find the net both times and the task was complete. Federer took the set 6-2. Two sets all and we headed for a fifth set.
The Swiss Genius seemed to have saved the best for the last. He had the best serve statistics of the entire match with 2 aces, 77% first serves in and winning 83% of them. After holding to love, he broke Simon right away with his second break point to go up 2-0. He followed that up with another love hold (he had 3 love holds in this set) to consolidate the break at 3-0. The next game, Gilles was pushed to deuce 5 times with Roger getting one break point opportunity but he couldn’t convert it. Simon held and then both players continued to hold relatively comfortably till it was Federer’s chance to serve it out. Roger got a bit tight and offered two break points but saved both with spectacular serves and fantastic all-court play. Finally, Simon mishit a backhand and the set was done. Federer won the match 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Here are the stats.When asked about the fall, Federer said,“I didn’t hurt myself or anything, but maybe I did lose that touch of confidence for a little bit, and then I was out of the match there for a bit.” In Gilles’ presser he said of the second and third set “I didn’t give him time,” …”I managed to start moving him around a bit.” But then concluded with: “When things turn nasty, he responds well.” Simon elaborated, “In the fifth, he tried to be very, very aggressive directly after his serve, to manage his serve game. He was much better with those. Then little by little, he managed to take over again.”
This match win was extra special for it enabled Roger to reach several milestones such as reaching 900 match wins in his career. Federer said, “I knew 900 was on the line. I’m just happy I have been able to win a lot of matches throughout my career, [giving] myself an opportunity over and over again. I love this game.”
Here’s a summary of the records he achieved with this match win:
- This was his career total 900th match win out of 1,104. Only 3 players have ever won more matches, Vilas (924), Lendl (1,071) and Connors (1,243).
- It was his 256th Grand Slam match win. He broke the record a while ago which was 233 match wins held by Connors.
- He has now reached 36 consecutive Grand Slam QFs. He had broken the previous record a long time ago as well, which was 27 by Connors. This means he has reached the QFs of every Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2004.
- He has also reached a total of 40 Grand Slam QFs and is only 1 behind Connors with 41.
- Roger has now equaled the total number of French Open match wins with Vilas and Pietrangeli at 58
- Federer has now reached a record 9 consecutive QFs at Roland Garros, since 2005 onwards. He broke his own record of 8 consecutive French Open QFs set last year.
- Federer has also set a new record of reaching 10 QFs at Roland Garros in total; surpassing Agassi and Vilas who reached this stage 9 times each (neither record was consecutive).
Up next is yet another Frenchman, Tsonga. Though their H2H is 9-3, Tsonga has been in devastating form so far and hasn’t dropped a single set. He seems to reserve his best performances for the Grand Slams and earlier in the year, he pushed Roger to 5 sets at the Australian Open. It will be a very tough match to say the least. In the meantime, while I remain quietly optimistic I do have to say I’m already very thrilled with our hero thus far. Before Roland Garros started, I knew all those records I listed above were looming in the horizon IF were he to reach this far. He has achieved them emphatically, with grace, elegance, hard work, grit, patience and that extra Federer flair. As a fan I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Thank you Roger for creating magic on the tennis court 900 times! Hope there’s many more in the days to come!