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Tennis

Roland Garros: Day 8 - Old timers stage a comeback, fresh look among the women

Stefanos Tsitsipas is one of three players in the top 10 who uses a single-handed backhand.
Stefanos Tsitsipas is one of three players in the top 10 who uses a single-handed backhand. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Thirtysomethings Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka will duke it out for a spot in the semi-final. In the women's draw, three of the four quarter-finalists have never gone as deep at a Grand Slam event.

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Dancing in a one-handed backhand wonderland

For a couple of hours on Day 8, there wasn’t a single double-handed backhand to be seen on the two main courts.  Roger Federer, Leonardo Mayer, Stan Wawrinka and Stefanos Tsitsipas are all of the old school - they use one-handed backhands. Federer came through his bout on centre court with Mayer in straight sets while on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Wawrinka and Tsitsipas slugged it out for more than five hours. Dominic Thiem, last year’s beaten finalist, will be whipping his single-handed backhand out on Day 9. “Yeah, it's good to see,” said Federer. ”It's nice that it's not a dying breed, because Stefanos will be around for a long time. So will Dominic. And that will inspire a new generation.”

A country for old men

Stefanos Tsitsipas has freely admitted that Roger Federer is his big inspiration. The 20-year-old Greek missed out on the chance to play his idol after going down to Stan Wawrinka in the last 16 on Day 8. Federer, 37, will play Wawrinka, 34, on Day 10 for a place in the semi-final.  Federer has won 22 of their 25 meetings but the last time they played on clay, Wawrinka carved up his Swiss compatriot 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 in the last eight at the French Open. They got history.

New people

While Federer and Wawrinka are old hands in the latter stages of Grand Slam tournaments, Marketa Vondrousova and Petra Martic will contest their first quarter-final at a major following victories over Anastasija Sevastova and Kaia Kanepi respectively. Johanna Konta has been to the last eight before. She got to the semi-final at Wimbledon a few years back. But she’s into her first Roland Garros quarter-final after beating the 23rd seed Donna Vekic in straight sets. Konta’s run is quite remarkable as she had never won a match at the French Open in her three previous visits. Now she’s won four. She will face seventh seed Sloane Stephens after last year’s beaten finalist outmuscled the 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-3.

Nice hands, Roger

Roger Federer is the gift that keeps on giving. The former boy wonder is now an international tennis icon. How can he get the crowds eating out of his hand? Simple. Play stylish tennis and then dazzle everyone with self-deprecating humour and lashings of charm. Fabrice Santoro came onto centre court to do the sidekick role after Federer’s demolition of Leonardo Mayer. Santoro informed the adoring hordes that the Swiss had reached his 54th quarter-final at a Grand Slam. Everyone cheered and clapped. Waiting for the acclaim to die down, Federer said in perfect French:  “I’m really happy. After a few years away from the French Open I didn’t know what to expect and I prepared myself for the worst – a first round exit and not even winning a set.” As if. “But it’s been brilliant so far,” he added. “I’m enjoying my game and I’m here in a full stadium with a standing ovation.” They roared some more. This man is slick. Very slick.

Getting there

Rafael Nadal has good reason to love Roland Garros. He has won 11 of his 17 Grand Slam titles at the venue. He moved into the quarter-final with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 defeat of the Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero. Despite the severe looking scoreline, Londero didn’t disgrace himself. Nadal is nowhere near the fluency of Monsieur Roger but he is getting the job done. He told the on-court interviewer in French that the French Open was the most important tournament for him and he thanked the crowd for their support. They all cheered. Good stuff.

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