"I tried many things. One of them was trying to put it up high. Another one was trying to chip it shorter. Another one was trying to hit through the wind. Obviously, I was not going to, you know, leave the French Open without having tried everything out there."
-- Roger Federer, after taking a straight-sets quarterfinal loss to fellow Swiss countryman and Davis Cup teammate Stanislas Wawrinka on a windy Tuesday at Roland Garros
Some people will interpret the loss as a sign that at age 33, Roger Federer no longer has the will to win majors. Others might say he no longer has the legs and has lost a step. While it may be cold comfort for the 17-time Grand Slam singles champ, this demonstrated most of all that when it comes to winning tennis matches, raw power expertly applied under favorable conditions will take a wrecking ball to the artistic "beautiful" tennis for which Federer is famous.
The ambient advantage Wawrinka enjoyed Tuesday was the gusting wind. The 30-year-old from Lausanne may be the master of a glorious backhand, but he's also the owner of a roughneck game. For all his timing and even those dazzling flashes of touch, he's best at muscling the ball. Hurting it. He hits through it, all right -- so much so that half the time you expect to see it come out the back side of his racket face, a melting hot mess as he follows through.
Thus, while Federer kept groping for answers to a difficult question on the court, Wawrinka kept hitting those penetrating forehands and backhands that plowed through the wind as if those optic yellow Babolat balls were 9-pound cannonballs. It was a fearsome display, all right: Wawrinka hit 43 winners to just 28 by Federer, yet made just two more unforced errors. While Federer's attacking tendencies have recently been praised, he won just 13 of his 23 net attacks while Wawrinka won 13 of 19. Federer never had a look at a break point.
Wawrinka has taken another giant step out of the shadow of the man once seen as his mentor. It's welcome, too, because the difference in their fetching games is reflected in everything about them. Wearing shorts that resemble pajama bottoms these days, Wawrinka looks as if he just stepped off his front porch and ought to be waving around a can of beer instead of a tennis racket. You half-expect him to reach under his shirt and scratch his belly.
Perhaps it was only fitting, then, that Wawrinka advanced to the semifinals on a day less fit for tennis than for a tractor pull in the mud. He said of the wind and challenge posed by the heavy, damp balls: "It's better for my game. I can be 25 meters behind [the baseline] and still put so much power that he [Roger] really can't control what he wants to do."
Wawrinka also told reporters that the wind was an ally in one other critical way. It underscores another contrast. For if Roger Federer is that proverbial "thinking man's tennis player," Wawrinka subscribes to the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) school of tennis strategy.
"With the wind, you don't have to think too much," he explained. "Just play simple. Without wind, I would have looked for the angles or somewhere else; whereas here, you know, I was just trying to hit strongly on his backhand and wait for the right moment to hit a winning point."
It was a rough day for beautiful tennis, but a beautiful day for a roughneck.