Stan Wawrinka gets first Basel win in five years – beating valiant fellow Swiss Chiudinelli

Stan Wawrinka beats Marco Chiudinelli in three sets to reach the second round of the Swiss Indoors in Basel

It has become something of an unwritten rule that a Swiss man will surge all the way to the title match in Switzerland’s only ATP500 tournament.

Until now, that Swiss man has always been Basel native Roger Federer: Seven times he has won the title here, and three more times has been the losing finalist. In short, he has been in every final since his first title in 2006.

But this year, Basel looked to another home favourite, the top-ranked Swiss and the No1 seed, Stan Wawrinka, to carry the flag.

He was not alone: Not surprisingly, the tournament awarded wild cards to a couple more Swiss, but as ill fortune would have it, Marco Chiudinelli was drawn against Wawrinka in the very first round.

Remarkably for two Swiss men who have shared the Davis Cup stage for years, Wawrinka age 31 and Chiudinelli 35 had never played against each other. Had it been last year, Wawrinka would surely have broken his run of first-round losses here with ease: As it was, he suffered four losses in a row against the fearsome Ivo Karlovic.

For last year, Chiudinelli was ranked well outside the top 300, suffering from just the latest of many injuries—arm, shoulder, and knee. He did not even begin his 2015 season until a Challenger event in late May and won just a single main-tour match the following week in s-Hertogenbosch.

But this year, he found a new lease of tennis life and by February he had used the Challenger tour to great effect: a title in Wroclaw, final in Manila, semi in Bangkok. Then he won his first Grand Slam match—via qualifying—in six years at the US Open, and took the in-form Lucas Pouille to a fifth set.

With time back on the Challenger tour, and some indoor hard-court practice under his belt, he was now ranked 122, but even taking into account his compatriot’s nervy performances here for so many years, it was a stretch to expect an upset.

It was still a high-octane atmosphere as locals packed the stands, including the Federer’s parents. No pressure, then, especially for Chiudinelli, a childhood friend of their son.

But he really rose to the occasion, playing as if Federer had given him the rulebook on attacking play. He serve and volleyed, came into the net when possible, apparently stealing Wawrinka’s wind. It forced rushed errors from the top seed and a break.

Perhaps the scale of that break suddenly hit home, but Chiudinelli’s serve went to pieces and Wawrinka broke back. They headed to a tie-break.

Extraordinarily, it was now Wawrinka who seemed stressed by the situation. Three forehands long and he was 0-4 down, and tossed his racket away in disgust. He then netted a backhand for 6-0, and won his only point with an ace. He found himself, in under an hour, down a set, 7-6(1).

But Wawrinka is not a Grand Slam champion for nothing, and one of the few men on the tour to beat Djokovic on the biggest of stages. A superb rally brought up break point, and Wawrinka fired a missile down the line to break, 2-0, unleashing his first roar. He appealed to the crowd for support and got it.

The momentum swung, the errors flew from Chiudinelli, and Wawrinka made 12/12 points on first serve to sweep to a 6-1 set. The question now was whether the oldest man in the draw could summon both the physical resources to make a fight of the third.

He could. He began by fighting off break point in the opening game, and then held to love. It was soon 3-3, but Wawrinka was playing pinpoint tennis, apparently firing backhand winners at will and taking the initiative at the net.

Chiudinelli made a diving volley to hold for 4-3, and looked as though he might break the Wawrinka will through a 10-minute game of six deuces and two break points. The top seed fired forehand errors to right and left but finally held, and as is so often the case, immediately broke his opponent.

Still Chiudinelli resisted to the end. It took four deuces, a 23-shot rally for match point, and a final ace to get that long-awaited Basel victory, 6-4. That it had to be at the expense of such a spirited effort from his colleague was perhaps the only fly in the ointment.

So just one Swiss remains in action in Basel, after Henri Laaksonen went out to Marcel Granollers—also in a spirited contest—6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

And it was not a good day for the popular Grigor Dimitrov, one of six single-handers in the draw. He seemed to have the win in his grasp against the big leftie, Gilles Muller, after leading by a set and 2-0, only to be broken twice to level the score. He then passed up a 0-40 chance to break in the third set at 3-3, failed to do so, and the increasingly grooved serve of the man from Luxembourg broke in the final game of the match, 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4.

With Dusan Lajovic, Nicolas Mahut and Mikhail Youzhny all losers, too, there remain only two one-handed backhands in the draw—though perhaps the best two on the tour: those of Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet, who opens his campaign tomorrow after a confidence-boosting victory in Antwerp.

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