Cincinnati Masters: Stan Wawrinka loss to Julien Benneteau is latest shock

Stanislas Wawrinka loses 1-6 6-1 6-2 to Julien Benneteau in the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati Masters in Ohio

stanislas wawrinka
Stanislas Wawrinka lost in three sets on Friday Photo: Marianne Bevis

Cincinnati has, rather like Toronto before it, been a week that has managed to combine surprises with the familiar.

In both draws, world No1 Novak Djokovic fell before the quarters in uncharacteristically lack-lustre style, and in both, the rising Canadian star Milos Raonic fulfilled his top-10 ranking to become the only North American in the quarter-finals.

In both, the quarter-finals blended old and young: In Toronto 23-year-old Raonic shared the bottom half of the quarters with three veterans in the their 30s—Roger Federer, David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez; in the top half in Cincinnati, Stan Wawrinka—29 himself—shared the quarters with three men each aged 32—Ferrer, Tommy Robredo and Julien Benneteau.

There were familiar faces—Federer and Ferrer have reached the quarters in both back-to-back Masters—and some fresh blood—Fabio Fognini and Kevin Anderson have rarely reached so deep in Masters tournaments.

And there were more single-handers than you could shake a stick at: five different names across the two tournaments, with all three in the Toronto quarters advancing to the semis.

Champion last week, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, fell in his first Cincinnati match, and No4 seed Tomas Berdych managed just a single win in the two events together.

But between them, Australian Open champion and Monte Carlo Master Stan Wawrinka and Frenchman Benneteau had produced as many surprises as any of the quarter match-ups.

Benneteau is the kind of player who can match the best—just ask Federer, who might, but for a back injury to Benneteau, have lost in the third-round of Wimbledon in 2012 after going two sets down and facing a tie-break in the fourth. Benneteau would go on to beat the Swiss in Rotterdam six months later.

However, in nine singles finals, Benneteau had yet to win a title. Yet last week, he upset Ernests Gulbis and this week he did the same to Jerzy Janowicz—dismissing both young guns in straight sets. And his prowess in doubles has gone from strength to strength: He won the French Open with partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin this year.

Then there was Wawrinka, beaten in the third round in Toronto, and playing a bizarre topsy-turvey match at the same stage this week, eventually beating Marin Cilic, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1.

But with Djokovic, Tsonga and Grigor Dimitrov already out of the top half of the draw, the No3 seed had become the favourite to reach the Cincinnati final.

He looked an even stronger favourite when he surged through the first set, playing the kind of powerful, all-court tennis that had fans gasping with delight when he beat Djokovic, Berdych and finally Rafael Nadal in Melbourne. Benneteau managed to hold his first service game, but would win no more in a 20-minute set of two breaks. Wawrinka led, 6-1, having served three love games to drop just one point in 14 on his first serve.

But then came a dramatic reversal. Where he could do no wrong in the opener, Wawrinka hit a string of errors in the second, and Benneteau took full advantage. The Frenchman broke straight away to take a 3-0 lead, and some superb net-work—drawing on his doubles prowess—brought up two more break chances in the fourth game.

Wawrinka held, but then it would be his turn not to win another game in the set. Benneteau held to love with a serve-and-volley finish in the fifth and then played the shot of the match, if not the tournament—drop-shot pick up, lob retrieval and chased-down smash—to break again. By now, Wawrinka looked totally bemused as he struggled to put the ball in court, and conceded the set, 6-1.

By the third game in the third set, they had only been playing for one hour, but already the writing was on the wall. Benneteau broke as Wawrinka put yet another forehand long and consolidated with a love hold. The Swiss held one more game but, with 80 minutes on the clock, Benneteau served it out 6-2 to reach a first Masters semi-final.

He afterwards confessed the he felt he was playing, at 32, some of the best tennis of his life, and had determined, after the first set, just to try “hitting harder—and with some more intensity”. And he did, while Wawrinka seemed to lose much of his in what has become a season of great highs but also of puzzling losses.

Benneteau is guaranteed to take on another 32-year-old, and a Spaniard, in the semis—though whether it will be Ferrer or the rejuventated Robredo he would not know for a few hours.

But Cincinnati is proving to be the second reminder in as many weeks that passing the 30 mile-stone is no longer the psychological or physical barrier it once seemed to be in tennis.

The prime example of this would not take to court until the evening: Roger Federer, the oldest of the quarter-finalists at 33, was also a finalist in Toronto last week. He has withstood two tough tests already this week, back-to-back three-setters against Vasek Pospisil and Gael Monfils. Ill fortune, then, that he should find the only other Cincinnati champion in the draw across the net so soon in the tournament.

Andy Murray, beginning to show his best form since undergoing back surgery last autumn, will fancy his chances—not just of beating Federer but of reaching his first final, and perhaps winning his first title, since Wimbledon last year.

The winner between Federer and Murray, incidentally, was destined to play Raonic in the semis after yet another lop-sided score-line delivered him a 6-1, 6-0 victory over the No15 seed, Fabio Fognini, in a mere 57 minutes. The surprises keep coming…

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