You would expect nothing other than impeccable timing from a Swiss and Roger Federer judged his passage into the French Open quarter-finals to perfection yesterday. With the latest drops of rain about to fall on another grey and chilly day in Paris, the world No 1 completed an emphatic 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 over his fellow countryman, Stanislas Wawrinka.
Federer was the first man through the door to the last 16 and became the first to reach the last eight, in which he will face Robin Soderling, the man he beat in last year's final. In his first four matches here the defending champion has yet to drop a set.
If the draw was kind to Federer in the first three rounds – none of his opponents were ranked in the world's top 60 – his friend and Davis Cup team- mate promised a significantly tougher test. Wawrinka, the world No 24, prefers clay to any other surface and beat Federer on terre battue in Monte Carlo last year.
The two men combined forces to win the Olympic doubles title two years ago, when Wawrinka was arguably the more effective player. Federer acknowledged as much in their bizarre celebration routine in Beijing, when Wawrinka lay on the floor as the world No 1, acknowledging his partner's red-hot form, pretended to warm his hands.
Nevertheless, Federer had dropped only four games in beating Wawrinka in Madrid earlier this month and laid down an early marker here when he broke serve in the third game. Another break sealed the first set.
Wawrinka stole the initiative in the second by breaking to 15 in the opening game, but Federer levelled at 4-4 and the set went to a tie-break. Wawrinka led by a mini-break but failed to hold on to his advantage. When Federer converted his first set point Wawrinka repeatedly smashed his racket in frustration, wishing, no doubt, that he had been able to strike the ball as effectively. There were few problems in the third set for Federer, who broke twice before serving out for victory after an hour and 56 minutes.
"It changes a lot, playing a good friend like Stan," Federer said. "Obviously we've spent a lot of time together away from the tennis courts and the practice courts, so it makes it a bit harder. But at the same time, I think about every point I play against him and I'm still able to play good tennis and put in a good performance."
The world No 1 said a swirling wind had made conditions difficult. "It wasn't the same breeze all the time," he said. "It changed directions at times. I couldn't pick which side was better to play from, especially when the wind comes from the side. You have maybe one side where the slice-serve works better, and on the other you have to work through the wind."
He added: "The second set obviously killed it for him. He maybe didn't believe as much that he could beat me any more. I was able to play better as the match went on."
Soderling was just as impressive in his 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Marin Cilic. Last year's beaten finalist had too much power for the Croat with his pounding ground strokes and big serves. Cilic, the world No 12, reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open earlier this year, though his form has dipped in recent months.
On this day 12 months ago Soderling produced one of the biggest shocks in the history of tennis with his victory over Rafael Nadal, who was previously unbeaten in 31 matches at Roland Garros. The result turned the Swede from an unheralded journeyman into a contender for major honours and he is clearly unfazed by the challenge of living up to his exploits of 12 months ago.
Federer has never lost to Soderling but acknowledged the Swede's progress. "Because of the improvements he's made, he's an opponent not to underestimate," Federer said. "He beat incredible players on the way to make the finals here last year, so clay seems to have become his surface of preference."
The Swiss was asked how he handled hard-hitting opponents like Soderling. "I want to try to get him to move," Federer said. "Sometimes that's not in your control. If they play aggressively off the return and serve well, then you play more like a hard-court match, which I don't mind doing. Maybe that's why I'm good on many surfaces, because I can adapt to any sort of opponent. But you want to try to get those guys moving, give them different types of balls, keep them low maybe with the slice, because they have to bend more than little guys."
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the last French player of either sex in singles competition, retired injured after losing the first set to Mikhail Youzhny. The world No 10 received treatment to his leg when 5-2 down and threw in the towel when the Russian won the following game. After speaking to the umpire Tsonga threw his racket on to his chair and then shook Youzhny's hand. The world No 14 will next face the winner of last night's final match between Andy Murray and the Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych.
British interest in the doubles ended when Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski were beaten 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 by Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman. However, both Britons in the boys' tournament had good victories. Ashley Hewitt beat the No 8 seed, Austria's Dominic Thiem, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, while Oliver Golding beat France's Mick Lescure 7-6, 6-4.