In what is surely the highlight of the first round, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka takes on sixth seed and former Wimbledon semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov, whose run to the last four at the Championships was now four years ago, has had a disappointing year so far and is yet to claim his first title. Wawrinka, meanwhile, is still struggling to make progress on his comeback from a knee injury and has just two wins since February. Who will come out on top?
Wawrinka and Dimitrov have met six times so far in a head-to-head that the Bulgarian leads four matches to two. It was Wawrinka who scored the first two wins, however, beating Dimitrov in straight sets 7-5 6-3 6-3 at the Australian Open in 2011 before rallying from a set down to oust him in Madrid two years later. But when they faced off in the Queen’s Club semifinals in 2014 Dimitrov delivered a clinical performance to win 6-2 6-4. That was the first of four straight wins, including two on clay.
Last time out
Dimitrov again fell in the third round at the French Open, losing to Fernando Verdasco. But he must have had high expectations of himself for the grass court season, which began at Queen’s, a tournament he won in 2014. He did not live up to them. Although he played reasonably well in beating Damir Dzumhur 6-3 6-7 6-3 in the first round, he was dismissed 4-6 1-6 by Djokovic in the second round in a match where he was far from his best.
Wawrinka, who was in dire need of match wins after a spate of early exits on the clay, also began his grass court season at Queen’s, and impressed in brushing aside Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-2 6-3 in the first round. However, he lost 5-7 7-6 6-1 in the second round to Sam Querrey having squandered eight set points in the first set. He then played Eastbourne, getting the tough draw of Andy Murray in the first round. The Scot got his first win in nearly year, beating Wawrinka 6-1 6-3.
How do they match up?
Though both men may appear to have similar games at first glance, their strengths are quite different. The obvious similarity is between their backhands, with both hitting single-handers. But whilst Wawrinka’s backhand is a hammer of a shot, and surely the most powerful in the game, Dimitrov’s backhand is a real weakness. The Bulgarian at times struggles to come over the ball and it is not entirely uncommon for his backhand to break down.
But his forehand is generally an excellent shot, particularly on fast courts where he is not forced to generate all of his own pace. He is also a better mover than Wawrinka on grass courts with the Swiss complaining in his defeat to Murray about his unsure footing. Due to those movement issues Wawrinka will need to have a good serving day to stand much chance of upsetting Dimitrov, but fortunately the former world #3 is blessed with powerful deliveries on both first and second serves.
At this stage in his comeback it is hard to see Wawrinka pulling off the win here. Although Dimitrov hasn’t impressed often this season, he is a better grass court player than Wawrinka, who did not look at all comfortable at Devonshire Park. Indeed, he may be more concerned about getting on and off the court without picking up an injury than he is with winning. Dimitrov will have loftier ambitions and will advance a straight sets winner.