As Sam Querrey and Stanislas Wawrinka took to the court yesterday, ESPN amusingly dubbed the round-of-sixteen match a duel between “the Other American” and “the Other Swiss” — a joke, perhaps, but an apt one. With a favorable draw the reward for the victor, this match was an exceptional opportunity for either player to finally step out from the shadows of a more famous compatriot and leave a mark on a Grand Slam stage. Not surprisingly, it turned into a gritty five-setter between two evenly matched opponents, with the Swiss the last man standing.
At first, the somber crowd could be forgiven for thinking it might go the way of the past eighteen day matches on Arthur Ashe, each of which ended in straight sets. Querrey lost the first set and nearly the second in a tiebreak, but in a flurry of massive forehands, he leveled the count. Then, back and forth, back and forth.
Toward the end of this year’s second-longest match, both men were hampered by fatigue. Despite a strapped thigh, Wawrinka managed to find a sudden burst of ferocity when it mattered. Querrey served a very tired game down 4-5 in the final set, and the two players danced between deuce and match point a few times. But, despite the level play, it seems only fitting that Wawrinka — the man who shocked everyone by knocking out the No. 4 seed, Andy Murray, in the third round — would emerge the winner. He broke Querrey to take the final set 6-4.
Querrey and Wawrinka were not just battling for their first quarterfinal berth in a Slam; they were fighting for the very real possibility of making a semifinal as well. On the other side waited Mikhail Youzhny — a top competitor, sure, but hardly as intimidating as a Murray, Roddick, or any other solid top-ten player who would normally be there. Consider, for example, the other thrilling five-setter that unrolled on Louis Armstrong later that night between two Spaniards: the winner, Fernando Verdasco, has the dubious pleasure of meeting Rafael Nadal in the next round, the only player who hasn’t been broken even once so far this tournament.
Instead, Wawrinka will play Youzhny in the quarterfinals with a real chance to make it through. Expect yet another match of dire opportunity between two men who haven’t performed this well in years — if ever.