Last year’s result
Wawrinka was forced out of the US Open last year with a serious knee injury that eventually forced him to go under the surgeon’s scalpel twice. Just a year earlier, however, the good times had been rolling in for the Swiss star in the Big Apple. With his trademark combination of power and panache, he hammered his way through the draw, defeating 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori in the last four and an ailing Novak Djokovic, then the defending champion, in the final.
It has been a difficult year for Wawrinka. He returned after nearly six months out injured at the Australian Open, but it came too soon for him and he fell in the second round to Tennys Sandgren of the USA. He managed to reach the last four in Sofia, but aside from that match wins were few and far between for the former world #3. Even on his beloved red clay he could not find his best, and he fell in the first round in Paris to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
He did manage to pick up a couple of wins on the grass, including at Wimbledon where he bested Grigor Dimitrov in the first round, but his performances were still below par. A first-round loss in Washington did not help matters. But at last in Toronto and Cincinnati the giant within awoke. He reached the third round in Canada, losing there to Nadal despite a valiant performance before making the last eight in Cincinnati and taking Federer the distance in a 7-6 6-7 2-6 loss.
There are none more powerfully equipped from the back of the court than the barrel chested. He has a big serve, a club of a forehand and a backhand for the ages. It is upon the latter that he will rely most heavily in New York. Though without the elegance of Federer and Dimitrov, or the flamboyance of young Denis Shapovalov, it is Wawrinka who boasts the best single-hander in the game. When it is firing none can stand before him.
That is exemplified by both Nadal and Djokovic, surely the best two defenders of the modern era, possibly of all time. Wawrinka has hit through them both in Grand Slam finals, and the shot that they proved unable to live with was his backhand, particularly down the line. Wawrinka hits that shot with a force unmatched in the game, and as a result it provides him with more than his fair share of winners. And lately, he has begun to find it again with dangerous regularity.
Wawrinka could have an excellent US Open. But he does face a difficult first-round draw against Grigor Dimitrov and could face Milos Raonic as early as the third round. But the way he is playing at the moment he will surely go into the Dimitrov match with great confidence, a man he beat at Wimbledon in circumstances much more favourable to the Bulgarian. Raonic too is not the player he was in his 2016 pomp. A tough draw then, but not an impossible one.
If Wawrinka can find his groove, he could well motor through his first three matches. And though Isner and del Potro may wait for him, the American is notoriously flaky in New York and del Potro looks to be nursing a wrist problem. They are both matches Wawrinka could win. But equally, Dimitrov has been showing signs of life recently, and acquitted himself fairly well in Toronto and Cincinnati. He could well beat Wawrinka in the first round. One rather suspects it will be boom or bust for the Swiss.