Stan Wawrinka’s confidence dashed once again in Basel
Stan Wawrinka loses to Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round of the Swiss Indoors Basel
This time last year, I mentioned to this week’s No3 seed in Basel, Stan Wawrinka, that he was under rather a lot of pressure when he arrived at his home tournament.
He had already lost in the first round of the Swiss Indoors in 2012, and did not want to do so again. But more important, he was yet to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals, and the points in Basel were important in sealing his place in London for the first time in his career.
The combined pressure of both burdens 12 months ago was written all over Wawrinka’s face and tennis, and also afterwards in the words that followed another first-round loss.
“It’s more about me, about how I was feeling to play here in Basel in front of the Swiss people,” he said. “I always want to do well, I always try to play good.
“For me, it’s like Gstaad, I’m too nervous, I’m tight. I think too much about what to do in the match, and I always make a bad choice. But that’s life, and I have to accept that. So far, it’s my best year and I’m quite happy with the year I’ve had. It was just a bad day.”
But for Wawrinka, year had already been better than that best year: His first Grand Slam title, beating Rafael Nadal; His first Masters title, beating Roger Federer; the quarters at Wimbledon and the US Open. And most important of all, confirmation of his place at the World Tour Finals before the arrival of the indoor season.
So it seemed right to ask if he felt the same burden of pressure this year as last. The answer was full of the confidence that has carried this quietly-spoken Swiss to the top of the game at the age of 29: “For sure it’s great for me to be already qualified for London this year.
“Last year I was in a different position, it was my first chance to qualify for London. At least I don’t have that in my mind when I start my match here.
“There is always pressure; I always put pressure on myself, want to do well, always want to play well. I didn’t play great at all in Asia. Twice I lost in the first round, so I’m looking for my confidence to get some wins. I’m really focused… I think I had a really great week of preparation, practising really hard with Magnus [Norman], and I’m feeling good on the practice courts. Now I just need some matches.”
Wawrinka began his 2014 campaign against Mikhail Kukushkin, who was enjoying a strong autumn season—indeed he reached the semis in Moscow just before Basel. In the space of a month, he had beaten Fabio Fognini, Mikhail Youzhny, Tommy Robredo and Kevin Anderson, so it was clear that he was in form and dangerous.
Just how dangerous quickly became apparent, as Kukushkin broke early to ensure the first set, 6-4. He dropped just four points on serve despite serving at only 45 per cent, while Wawrinka made error after error.
The two exchanged breaks at the start of the second set, but at last Wawrinka upped the aggression, held to love three times, and pummelled Kukushkin on serve, with net attacks and down-the-line winners to take the second set tie-break for the loss of just one point.
Yet the third set saw Wawrinka miss more backhands and down 3-0. He drew level, only to concede another break with a double fault and subsequently the match, 6-3.
It was not such a trouncing as last year, but a seeming lack of passion and a tally of 55 errors sucked the life out of the St Jakobshalle arena.
Wawrinka’s form continues to see-saw since the confidence-boosting performances against Novak Djokovic last year and the three titles back in the first few months of 2014.
He reached the semis at the World Tour Finals at his first attempt: Will he be able to find his charismatic, big-hitting best in time for London and, more importantly, the Davis Cup final? He and his compatriots will hope so.
Elsewhere, the oldest man in the draw, No8 seed Ivo Karlovic, hit 23 aces against Lukas Rosol, taking his 2014 tally to 1,110 and taking out Rosol, 7-6, 6-3. He will next play Kenny de Schepper, who beat Federico Delbonis, 7-6, 7-5,
Ivan Dodig came close to losing out to another Swiss favourite, Marco Chiudinelli, but broke twice in the third set to seal a 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 victory. And Benjamin Becker defied a 10-year age difference to beat Gastao Elias, 6-3. 6-2.