PARIS – The Aussies used to do it all the time. Beat each other in a no-holds-barred battle on court and then buy each other beers all night. For Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle and the rest it was routine.
But that sort of thing doesn't happen on the Tour these days. Players are OK with each other but there are very few who form close relationships with rivals. Roger Federer and Stan Warwinka, who found themselves looking at each other across the net on the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court at Roland Garros today, are an exception.
After Federer survived a little second-set hiccup before strolling through to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 victory, both players talked about the emotions that were threaded through the contest.
"It's always very special to play Roger," Warwinka admitted afterward. "We know each other so well. We've been through so much together. There was a lot of emotion on court today. The beginning of the match was difficult. I felt tense and had trouble releasing myself and really playing good tennis."
Federer also admitted that it was difficult to regard Warwinka as just another opponent.
"It changes a lot playing a good friend like Stan," Federer said. "Obviously, we've spent a lot of time together away from the practice courts so it makes it a bit harder. But I'm still able to put in a good performance. I'm happy to be able to, you know, not forget who he is but, at the same time, really be able to play great tennis."
The great tennis did not come until the end of the match when Federer relaxed and let everything flow. It might have been different had he lost the second set, which he should have done had Warwinka not choked.
The younger, lower-ranked Swiss took advantage of some sloppy Federer forehands at the start of that set and was poised to capitalize when he served for it at 5-3. But then three consecutive forehands of his own either found the net or flew out of court and the chance was gone. A bad volley midway through the tie break ruined another chance of leveling the match and when Federer finally wrapped up the breaker, Stan smashed his racket three times on the red clay, turning it into a mangled wreck. That was some of the emotion he had talked about, spilling out for all too see. No one needed to tell him that you don't have the luxury of squandering opportunities against this opponent.
Warwinka had beaten Federer once in their five previous tour meetings -- at Monte Carlo last year -- but this was a Grand Slam and, quite apart from the fact they had probably never played each other on the Centre Court at Roland Garros, it was a big occasion.
Tactically, Federer's use of the drop shot -- a ploy that has been used with increasing frequency by many players here this past week -- was interesting. He had used it a lot in his previous three matches but today it was less prevalent.
"I've been able to use the drop shot much more in the last couple of years," he said. "It's something that's worked for me. But it doesn't work against every player the same way. Today against Stan, I thought it was not the best choice of shot. He reads it well. He plays heavy, deep balls and it's difficult to have a drop shot against him. I use my drop shots only when I'm convinced. You shouldn't do it for the sake of it."
So speaks the master who will now be facing the man he beat in last year's final, Robin Soderling, in the last eight. The big Swede, who has gained so much confidence from beating Rafael Nadal here last year, demolished the big-serving Croat Marin Cilic in highly impressive style 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
Late on another dark and chilly evening, there was huge disappointment for the French crowd when their last survivor, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was forced to retire injured after losing the first set 6-2 to the Russian Mikael Youzhny.