French Open 2020: Stan Wawrinka powers to Round 3 with 150th Major match-win

Nadal and Thiem cruise on; Williams departs with injury; Azarenka beaten

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Stan Wawrinka
Stan Wawrinka (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Perhaps Roland Garros can count itself fortunate to have completed the entire first round of singles matches in its allotted time, given the cold temperatures and near incessant drizzle.

The courts have been slow, the conditions heavy, but come first Wednesday, and a glimmer of sunlight forced its way through the cloud-cover.

How appropriate then that Stan Wawrinka took to one of the most beautiful clay courts in tennis, Suzanne Lenglen, in pursuit of his 150th Major match-win in the 60th Major of his career.

How appropriate that perhaps the most impressive backhand in this sport, backed up by a powerhouse forehand and attacking mindset, was into its groove almost immediately against one of the more promising names to make their mark during this most troubled of pandemic seasons.

Dominik Koepfer is a late-bloomer of 26 courtesy of taking the college tennis route prior to turning professional. He broke the top 100 a year ago, and came to Paris at a career-high 61 after a notable quarter-final run at the Rome Masters via qualifying.

There, he became the only man to win a set against Novak Djokovic in the Serb’s title run, and he also stood out at last year’s US Open, where he came through qualifying to reach the fourth round. It took Daniil Medvedev, the runner-up, to stop him after two and a half hours.

The left-handed German, playing in his debut main draw here, has considerable power of his own, but he found himself on the back foot sooner than expected against some purple tennis from former champion Wawrinka. Once he had settled into the conditions, the 35-year-old Swiss was the first to convert a break point, and that was enough to seal the set, 6-3.

The second set saw Wawrinka at his best, striking winners down both wings to take a 4-0 lead, and with barely an hour on the clock, he had that set, too, 6-2.

The Swiss is sometimes prone to losing concentration, and he did so in the third set, while Koepfer began to find his range, striking deep and strong to the corners. The German fended off three early break points and then applied his own pressure. The result was a growing number of errors from Wawrinka, who faced break point in the seventh game, conceded with his 40th error of the match, 3-5. The Koepfer serve in particular began doing considerable damage, swinging wide to the backhand wing, and he served it out, 6-3.

A measure of the popularity of Wawrinka’s brand of tennis was written around the stands in the Lenglen arena. With just 1,000 spectators permitted each day into Roland Garros, it was clear that a good many of Wednesday’s fans had headed to this match. And in the fourth set, that charismatic big-time tennis was back on show.

The Swiss broke in the second game, and then again to lead 5-1, and served it out, fending off his only break point of the set, to win 6-1.

Perhaps another reason for the influx of fans to Lenglen was the unhappy news that another former champion, Serena Williams, had announced her withdrawal from the tournament just ahead of her highly anticipated rematch with Tsvetana Pironkova.

The unseeded Bulgarian had taken the first set from Williams in their compelling US Open quarter-final just three weeks ago, but Pironkova will now meet Barbora Krejcikova, who beat compatriot and No32 seed Barbora Strycova, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

The 39-year-old Williams, a three-time champion, picked up an Achilles injury during her US Open semi-final loss to Victoria Azarenka earlier this month. In her press conference, she explained that she had felt it during her tough opening Paris win:

“It’s my Achilles that didn’t have enough time to properly heal after the Open. I was able to get it somewhat better, but just looking long term in this tournament, will I be able to get through enough matches… I don’t think I could, I’m struggling to walk, so that’s kind of a tell-tale sign that I should try to recover.

With the women’s tour thus far confirming just one more tournament after Roland Garros, it is likely to be Williams’ last appearance until 2021. She said:

“Yeah, I think I need four to six weeks of sitting and doing nothing, at least two weeks of just sitting down, and then I have been told that I need to start doing a little training.”

Former No1 and Major champion Azarenka also lost early in the day’s schedule. The No10 seed lost to No161 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-2 6-2. Azarenka had played a lot of tennis in the last five weeks, and with considerable success, to the extent that she was tipped for a deep run at Roland Garros. She won Cincinnati and reached the final of the US Open, before hot-footing it to Rome for a quarter-final run.

Here, she dropped only three games to reach Round 2, but was vocal in her despair about the cold, damp conditions. After a rain delay to the start of play in Round 2, Court Simonne Mathieu was again heavy and damp, but Schmiedlova seems to be thriving: She also beat Venus Williams in her opener.

There were no such problems for No3 seed Elina Svitolina, who tops the quarter vacated by Williams and Azarenka. The Ukrainian beat qualifier Renata Zarazua, 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Svitolina won her 15th WTA title in Strasbourg last week but is yet to reach a Major final. That could change this week. She will next face No27 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.

There was considerable drama in the top quarter for No5 seed Kiki Bertens, who survived a 3hrs11mins battle against Sara Errani despite facing match point and taking an on-court injury treatment. It proved to be a bitter conclusion, with Errani clearly thinking her opponent was exaggerating her problems. However, Bertens subsequently collapsed onto the court, and wept as she endured a long physio treatment.

She was eventually taken from the court in a wheelchair, leaving in serious doubt her ability to continue the tournament. Should that be the case, the top seed Simona Halep will be among only three remaining seeds from the eight in this quarter.

When it comes to the men’s draw, there is always one name who can be relied upon, the 12-time champion Rafael Nadal. It took him only an hour and 40 minutes to beat Mackenzie McDonald, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3. From 1-1 in the first set, he won 11 straight games, and although McDonald halted the flow at the start of the third set, he could not stem the tide. Nadal concluded things with his 31st winner of the match, against just 15 unforced errors.

Soon after, the No3 seed Dominic Thiem, runner-up at Roland Garros for the last two years, and the new US Open champion, joined Nadal in Round 3, beating Jack Sock, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(6).

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