Stefanos Tsitsipas was riding high coming into Paris. Stan Wawrinka was stuck on the ground floor. After a week of tennis at Roland Garros, the two will clash in a mouthwatering round-of-16 meeting come Sunday.
Both completed their third-round matches on Saturday, having been forced to stop the previous evening due to darkness. Tsitsipas is the first player from Greece to progress to the fourth round of the French Open since 1936; Wawrinka is one of just three men in the field other than Rafael Nadal to raise the trophy on Court Philippe Chatrier. It's a first-time matchup of two generations possessing powerful one-handed backhands and enough flair to light up the luminous host city.
Tsitsipas has worn his Top 10 tag and dark horse label well thus far, though he should feel fortunate to have avoided playing five sets in his latest win. The 20-year-old overcame Filip Krajinovic, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), but the Serbian served for both the third and fourth sets when double faults and peculiar mistakes crept into Tsitsipas’ game.
The sixth seed remained poised, hitting reset each time to capitalize on the Serbian’s inability to close. While he would drop the third set, the Greek’s maturity—shaped from numerous experiences on stadium courts over the past 10 months—lifted him in a precarious fourth-set tiebreaker full of unforced errors off both racquets. To beat Wawrinka, Tsitsipas will certainly look to increase free points off his first serve, and reduce his moments under duress.
"It all depends how I start the match," believes Tsitsipas. "If I start the match by taking an advantage early on, he's much older than me, I'm much younger than him, so I think when it comes to the physical [side], I guess I have a little bit of an advantage; but when it comes to experience, he's a bit more experienced than me."
Seeded No. 24, Wawrinka entered the French Open on the back of three consecutive losses. But when playing best of five, the 2015 event champion is a different competitor. For the third time in four majors, Wawrinka took out Grigor Dimitrov, edging the Bulgarian, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8). The Swiss, who saved five set points in the third-set tiebreaker, generally strengthens when he reaches the second week on a Grand Slam stage.
Since advancing to his first Roland Garros quarterfinal in 2013, Wawrinka is 13-1 in the fourth round of majors (and 9-4 in quarterfinals). This marks his best result since undergoing two knee surgeries in August of 2017. Tsitsipas, winner of 12 matches on clay this year and carrying a victory over Rafael Nadal in his back pocket, will ultimately determine whether Wawrinka confirms his candidacy as a comeback contender.
"Actually, when you play against him, he has a different ball than when you watch him play. When you watch him play, you think he's playing a little bit slower than what he's playing in real life," Wawrinka said. "He always looks like he gives himself a lot of time to play. He doesn't feel under pressure. He's playing the game well. It's going to be an interesting match."
The winner of this showdown could square off against Roger Federer in the last eight, if Federer gets past Argentina's Leonardo Mayer. Wawrinka is the last man to defeat Federer in Paris, defeating his compatriot four years ago en route to the trophy. Tsitsipas notched his biggest major victory when he ousted the 20-time Grand Slam champion in the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open.
With his victory against Dimitrov, Wawrinka became the 49th player in the Open Era to record 500 wins on the ATP Tour. The 34-year-old is the ninth active player to achieve the feat.