Rotterdam 2015: Classy Wawrinka rises to bold Garcia Lopez challenge
Stan Wawrinka beats Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-7(2) 6-4 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals of the ABN AMRO tournament in Rotterdam
Stan Wawrinka knew he had a battle on his hands if he was to take a step further in Rotterdam than on his memorable first visit here a decade ago.
Then, he played his famous compatriot Roger Federer for the first time, and lost. On this his first visit since, he had already made heavy weather of his opening win against the Dutch wild card, the No248 ranked Jesse Huta Galung, and knew he would have to up his game if he was to reach the quarter-finals here for the first time.
“It’s never easy. You need to adapt to the conditions. I didn’t play my best game, but it’s good to win and get one more chance to play better tomorrow.”
That next match was doubly intriguing because it featured a fellow user of the one-handed backhand but, more important, the 31-year-old Spaniard had beaten Wawrinka three times before, including their first-round encounter at last year’s French Open. Wawrinka had gained a measure of revenge in the fourth round in Australia this year, though it had taken him four sets, two of them tie-breakers.
Also important, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez was close to his career-high ranking of 23 after winning the fourth title of his career in Zagreb last weekend. In short, he was in form. No wonder Wawrinka expressed caution ahead of this latest contest: “It’s never easy to play against him. I lost a few times already in the past. He’s really strong player from the baseline, it’s tough to make winners, but it’s always a good battle with him.”
‘A good battle’ hardly did justice to what many have already dubbed the best match of the tournament so far.
Both men produced some sensational tennis, not least some long, deep backhand exchanges that, as a rule, Wawrinka might expect to seal with a bullet down the line but here, Garcia-Lopez was up to the task. Looking remarkably calm, he threw down a marker with the first rally, a backhand exchange between Wawrinka’s jack-hammer drive of a single-hander against the short take-back punch of Garcia Lopez. The Spaniard took first blood and broke in the first game.
But this would be a see-sawing match: Wawrinka broke back, and there were then love holds aplenty all the way to 5-6 on the Garcia-Lopez serve. He resisted six deuces and three break points to take it to a tie-breaker, and then scattered some killer drop shots among frequent net charges to race to the set, 7-6(2).
It had taken over an hour, but the fun was far from over. The second set produced more great exchanges, more delightful net finishes, deft pick-ups and one remarkable backhand pass across the net-bound Wawrinka that even the Swiss had to applaud.
But after a clutch of easy holds, Garcia-Lopez gave just a glimmer of a chance with a break point, and put a backhand wide to give up the decisive break. Wawrinka aced to take the set, 6-4 in what had been a clutch half hour of serving from the Swiss: 92 percent of first serves in play, offering up just two second serves. The two men stood at precisely 71 points apiece.
I’m happy the way I’m playing and feeling good here in Rotterdam
The bigger the challenge, the better Wawrinka seemed to play and his uninhibited tennis now began to flow. He broke in the first game of the final set with a backhand down-the-line winner, and broke again in the third as Garcia-Lopez netted a couple of tired volleys.
The Spaniard was also starting to miss some first serves and Wawrinka punished him. A love hold took his points to 17 from 23 for the set, but Garcia-Lopez stemmed the flow with a late flourish and held twice held serve.
Even the conclusion was full of incident: a Wawrinka ace on match point turned out to be long. But a couple of deuces more and Wawrinka finished it off with a serve and volley flourish, 6-2, after two and a quarter hours.
In the end, Wawrinka showed the form that has made him a Grand Slam champion and ranked him among the elite. Facing such a prolonged and high-quality challenge, he dug deep and found even better tennis. No wonder he was pleased with his performance: “It was a great level of play tonight, a really tough battle, but I’m happy the way I’m playing and feeling good here in Rotterdam.
“I think the first set was really intense. I was a little passive on my game but in the second I began to serve a little better to be a little bit more aggressive and to be a little more relaxed in my game. I’m happy to win.”
Wawrinka next faces the man who has already taken out two top-20 opponents here. Gilles Muller, enjoying a career-high ranking of 37, beat first David Goffin and last night the No5 seed Grigor Dimitrov, and his big left-handed serve that made life so difficult for Dimitrov’s single-handed backhand could challenge Wawrinka’s too.
The two have met only once before, in last month’s Chennai quarter-finals, and that one went Wawrinka’s way. If ‘Stan the Man’ continues to play like he did tonight, though, there will be only one winner.