Wimbledon 2017: Stan Wawrinka’s grass-court weaknesses badly exposed by debutant Daniil Medvedev

Stan Wawrinka’s hopes of completing a career Grand Slam came crashing down in the first round of Wimbledon as he was beaten 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 1-6 by 21-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev on Centre Court.

Wawrinka, who has reached the quarter-finals only twice in his 13 appearances at the all England Club, was struggling with a sore knee but it wasn’t just the injury that contributed to his shock loss.

Daniil Medvedev (R) shakes hands with Stan Wawrinka after winning their first round. AFP

Daniil Medvedev (R) shakes hands with Stan Wawrinka after winning their first round. AFP

The Swiss ace has never quite been at home at grass — he has never won a title on this surface, has a measly 51 win percentage on grass and has exited Wimbledon in the first round on five prior occasions. Before Wimbledon, Wawrinka had lost in his opening match against Feliciano Lopez at the Queen's Club.

His explosive backhand, which can bludgeon opponents into submission on hard and clay courts, isn’t the same powerful weapon on slick grass-courts. His power game can be easily neutralised by clever spin and angles; and with the ball staying low on grass, his troublesome knee did him no favours.

However, Wawrinka was determined to perform better at Wimbledon this year and had even hired a specialist grass-court coach Paul Annacone – who previously coached Pete Sampras and Roger Federer — to join Magnus Norman.

With the chance of rising to World No 1 by winning the only Grand slam trophy missing from his cabinet, Wawrinka knew the stakes were high at this year’s Wimbledon. But he ran into a young rising star who loves playing on grass, and fell at the very first hurdle.

The 6'6"-tall Medvedev made the most of Wawrinka’s weaknesses and flattened the ball out on every opportunity. Using a mix of big serves and flat forehands, Medvedev closed out the opening set in just 39 minutes He dropped only four first-serve points (21/25) in the first set, and showed few signs of nerves in his first-ever Wimbledon main draw match.

Wawrinka clawed back with a quick 3-0 two-break lead in the second set and leveled the match thanks to his tremendous one-handed backhand. Just when it looked like the fifth seed has found a solution to his opponent’s play, he called for the trainer at the change of ends after the second set and needed a substantial period of icing for his knee.

The third set was evenly poised, with neither player breaking serve in the opening nine games. Medvedev had grown in confidence as the match progresses, and did not let Wawrinka dictate play. He attacked from both wings to keep his opponent well behind the baseline.

However, it was ultimately Wawrinka’s own backhand that let him down at the most crucial juncture in the match.

Serving at 4-5, Wawrinka was staring down at three break points when he dumped a floating return into the net to hand the Russian a 2-1 lead. The Swiss had an open court, with the ball plump in his backhand-returning range, but he could only manage to find the net.

Medvedev rolled through the fourth set in just 26 minutes — hitting four aces and converting both his break points. He was riding a large wave of confidence, so much so that he even ventured towards the net with timely volleys — an aspect of his game that he admits needs work.

After clinching his maiden win at a Grand Slam — lost to Ernesto Escobedo at the Australian Open and retired against Benjamin Borzi earlier at Roland Garros — Medvedev kneeled down and kissed the Centre Court grass.

"A year ago I was ranked 250. If someone told me in one year I would win on Centre Court I would tell you you are joking. I don’t know what to say. I’m just really happy. Wimbledon is my favourite Slam,” an elated Medvedev said, after his win.

In Januray at the start of the season, even before he made his maiden ATP final at Chennai Open, he told Firstpost in an exclusive interview that his aim for the year was to finish in the top 50. Thanks to his impressive showing in the warm-up events prior to Wimbledon — he reached the quarter-finals at 's-Hertogenbosch (lost to Ivo Karlovic) and the semi-finals at Eastbourne (lost to Djokovic),  Medvedev had just cracked the top 50 on Monday.

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev celebrates winning the third set during his first round match against Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka. Reuters

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev celebrates winning the third set during his first round match against Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka. Reuters

The Russian has a brilliant opportunity to climb even higher up the rankings after his upset win over the World No 3. He faces qualifier Ruben Bemelmans in the second round, and should feel confident enough of besting the 124th-ranked Belgian.

Bemelmans got the better of veteran Tommy Haas in four sets in his opening round match. The 29-year-old Haas had been given a wildcard to make his last Wimbledon appearance, but couldn’t physically last for long in his opening round. This was Bemelmans’ first tour win of 2017 and he shouldn’t pose much of a challenge to the high-flying Medvedev.

Medvedev could even make a deep run into the second week, as the other seeded player in his section — Fernando Verdasco — was knocked out by Kevin Anderson in the first round. For now, Medvedev can savour the biggest win of his career that came on the biggest stage this sport has to offer.

Updated Date: Jul 04, 2017 09:48 AM

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