Paris Masters 2020: Stan Wawrinka beats Dan Evans to keep London hopes alive
Rafael Nadal targets 1,000th win and first Paris-Bercy title; ATP Finals Race nears end
The Rolex Paris Masters this year has one claim to fame in this disjointed, back-to-front, truncated tennis season.
The last Masters in the calendar, one of just three to survive the coronavirus pandemic cull, is the only one to be played at its designated venue in its designated week. Though it has been by the skin of its teeth as COVID closed down Paris just as the action got underway in the striking Bercy arena.
Briefly, there were hopes that 1,000 fans a day—and only during the day—might be part of the tournament. But that proved to be a false hope: Like most other events since the Tour’s return in August, the players would compete behind closed doors.
But the Paris Masters did make one change: the draw has been increased from 48 to 56, packing out the three Bercy courts. And among those 56, the embers of London ambitions have been stoked.
For while just one place is left among the eight for the last Nitto ATP Finals, seven men began this concluding Masters with the chance to claim that spot.
By the end of Monday, one had already fallen, and with the loss of Karen Khachanov, the only former champion in the draw was also gone.
Over the years, this is a tournament that has often suffered from its late slot in the calendar, and seen more than its share of withdrawals of the big names with injury and fatigue. This year, defending champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic opted out, as did No3 Dominic Thiem, while No4 Roger Federer remains absent following knee surgery.
However, that has increased the expectation that at last, world No2 Rafael Nadal could add this Masters title to his tally, one of just two missing from his resume.
Certainly the Spaniard has suffered more than most from injury and fatigue when it comes to Paris-Bercy. For the last three years, his visit has ended either in withdrawal or retirement, and in five of the previous seven years, he did not even enter the draw.
And it is no accident that he has also failed to win the ATP Finals, despite qualifying every year since 2005. Indeed Nadal has only ever won one indoor hard-court tournament, and that was 15 years ago on his home soil, when the Madrid Masters was played indoor in the autumn.
But this shortened and distorted pandemic season, and consequent decision that players keep their ranking points until next season, allowed Nadal to pull out of the US Open trip and focus on his beloved clay. Which did, of course, pay dividends: a 13th Roland Garros title and his 20th Major.
A bonus for the Spaniard has also been the preservation of energy and fitness into the closing stages of 2020. He thus arrived in Bercy ready to try and win the Paris double, and into the bargain draw level again with Djokovic’s record 36 Masters titles.
He could make one more headline in Paris this week: If he beat compatriot Feliciano Lopez in his opening match, Nadal would claim his 1,000th win.
Meanwhile, that list of London hopefuls was evolving. First it was the turn of Stan Wawrinka to try and keep alive his outside chances of making the ATP Finals. He took on Briton Dan Evans for the second time in a month, and while he had a 4-0 record over Evans, their matches were often close, not least their three-setter in St Petersburg last month, where Wawrinka saved three match points.
Certainly Evans was proving to be a handful this season, and had thus far scored eight top-20 wins. And he got an early chance to break here, too, but Wawrinka’s power and tactical nous had the Briton racing the baseline to no avail.
And although Evans took a 40-0 lead in the fourth game, Wawrinka’s big strikes on both forehand and backhand wings powered through him. The Swiss man’s fifth point in a row was a quality forehand-and-volley finish, 3-1, and he held with ease with an ace.
Evans was finding it tough to adjust from his back-to-back semi runs in Antwerp and Vienna: the court in Paris is slower, the balls different, and the surroundings dark and silent. He also had to adjust back to line-judges and challenges. It all added up to a real test of concentration as well as fitness.
For his part, Wawrinka has seldom had problems with producing penetrating shots in slow conditions, and he had Evans on the run again in the sixth game, but the Briton fended off another break. However, Wawrinka held with his familiar backhand winner, 5-2, and worked another break chance with a backhand pass. Again, Evans mixed up his direction and pace, and held, but it was only a temporary reprieve: Wawrinka served it out after 37 minutes, 6-3, with 17 winners to his credit.
Evans began to get more traction in the second set, attacking the net more often to try and counter the aggression of Wawrinka. He did reach deuce in the eighth game, though the Swiss held for 4-4, and then aced for a love hold.
Could Wawrinka manage the score-board pressure of serving to save the set? The answer was swift, and his free-flowing backhand carried him on to the tie-break. There, Wawrinka got the first mini advantage, and changed ends at 4-2. He passed Evans with a backhand winner for four match-points, 6-2, and pounded an unreturnable serve to advance, 7-6(3).
It was a high-quality and focused performance from the Swiss, with 35 winners, and 12 out of 15 net points to the good. Perhaps it was even of a quality to propel Wawrinka to only his second Masters title—and victory in Paris must be his target to stand a hope of qualifying for London.
Even then, he must hope that Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini lose early. The former plays Richard Gasquet, the latter Marcos Giron to consolidate their positions in the Race.
Another hopeful watching and waiting is Milos Raonic, who also won his opener over Aljaz Bedene, 6-3, 6-2.
1 Novak Djokovic
2 Rafael Nadal
3 Dominic Thiem
4 Stefanos Tsitsipas
5 Daniil Medvedev
6 Alexander Zverev
7 Andrey Rublev
Next to qualify
8 Diego Schwartzman
9 Matteo Berrettini
10 David Goffin
11 Pablo Carreno Busta
12 Milos Raonic
13 Stan Wawrinka