In surely the pick of the first-round action, at least on the men’s side, eighth seed Grigor Dimitrov takes on 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka. Both men have endured difficult seasons. Dimitrov had an excellent 2017, highlighted by triumphs in Cincinnati and at the ATP Finals in London. The former has been stripped from him already, qualification for the latter is in serious doubt. But will Wawrinka, who has been showing signs of life in his comeback from a knee injury, add to his woes?
This will be the second Grand Slam in a row that has played host to a Dimitrov-Wawrinka clash in the first round after Wawrinka’s 1-6 7-6 7-6 6-4 win at Wimbledon. That was their seventh meeting, and of the previous six it was Dimitrov who had won four. Indeed, he had claimed four wins on the bounce after losing his first two encounters with Wawrinka. That run impressively included two wins on clay, in Monte Carlo and Madrid in 2015.
Last time out
Dimitrov returned from that disappointment at Wimbledon, where he had been in dire need of some good form, in Toronto, where he found at least a measure of good play. He outlasted Fernando Verdasco 4-6 6-2 7-6 in the second round before maintaining his composure to oust Frances Tiafoe in the third. Kevin Anderson, however, overwhelmed him 6-2 6-2. He then saw his title defence in Cincinnati brought to a grinding halt by Djokovic in the third round.
Though Wawrinka proved entirely incapable of backing that Wimbledon win up, losing in the next round to the unheralded Thomas Fabbiano, his results have been improving. Though he was edged out by Donald Young in the first round in Washington, he played well in Toronto and Cincinnati. He reached the third round in Canada, acquitting himself well in a 5-7 6-7 defeat to eventual champion Nadal before succumbing 7-6 6-7 2-6 to compatriot Federer in the last eight in Ohio.
How do they match up?
Both men attract attention for their single-handed backhands. Wawrinka for the right reasons. His is a hammer of a shot, and one which he will look to fire him to victory in New York. When he is at his best, it is a devastating weapon and he has used it to hit through the very best in the game. He also has a powerful serve and surprisingly soft hands at the net. His forehand can let him down, but he was hitting it well in Toronto and Cincinnati.
Dimitrov’s backhand, appealing as it is aesthetically, is nothing like the weapon Wawrinka boasts. When Dimitrov’s confidence in the shot falters even a little, it rapidly escapes and he finds the net far too often from that wing, particularly when facing high balls. He can dictate play with his forehand, and his first serve is a weapon, but there is a fragility in those areas of his game as well. When he is in full cry he is a sight to behold, but timidity gets the better of him too often.
That mental weakness is rather more notable against the traditional ‘Big Four’ against whom he has gone 34-5, with three of those wins coming against its weakest member Murray. He has had more success against Wawrinka, winning four of their seven matches. But he showed those same issues with belief against the Swiss at Wimbledon. And whilst he may be playing better tennis, one still fears for him when the going gets tough. Wawrinka in five.