(Photo credit: Marianne Bevis)
After falling to 263rd in the world rankings after the French Open, three-time Major champion Stan Wawrinka has battled his way back into the top 100. A good run in St Petersburg, where he has taken a wildcard, would be a real boost for the Swiss who will be hoping to finish his 2018 campaign well with a view to launching a fresh challenge for the sport’s biggest honours next season. But standing between him and a place in the second round is world #76 Aljaz Bedene. Who will come out on top?
This will be the third meeting between Wawrinka and Bedene in a head-to-head the Swiss leads 2-1. Surprisingly, all three matches came in Chennai at the Australian Open warm-up tournament. Bedene took victory in the first, upsetting Wawrinka in the quarterfinals 6-2 7-6. But when they met at the same stage a year later, Wawrinka romped home a 6-2 6-1 victor. Wawrinka then bested him again a year later, this time in the final where he won 6-3 6-4.
Last time out
Wawrinka arrived on the hard courts of North America with only a handful of wins to his name all year and in dire need of some good results. A first-round loss to Donald Young in Washington was another setback, but his results improved thereafter. In Toronto he made it to the third round and played some fine tennis in a 5-7 6-7 loss to Rafael Nadal before he reached the last eight in Cincinnati, losing there to his compatriot Roger Federer. He followed that with a run to the third round in New York.
After losing a second-round heartbreaker to Radu Albot at Wimbledon, Bedene returned to his favoured clay, playing in Umag and Hamburg. But he lost in the second round at both, with an injury sustained in Hamburg ultimately forcing him out of the majority of the North American hard court swing, including both Toronto and Cincinnati. He returned to action at the US Open, but lost in five sets in the first round to the in-form Nikoloz Basilashvili, who went on to reach the second week.
How do they match up?
Both men have power, but Bedene’s groundstrokes will not stand up to Wawrinka’s in a protracted exchange. The Swiss, at his best, is a juggernaut, comfortable hammering winners from both wings, though it is his one-handed backhand that is his biggest weapon. Though it lacks the elegance of Federer’s and the flair of Gasquet and Shapovalov’s, it is still arguably the best on the Tour such is the venom that Wawrinka hits it with.
But there have been weaknesses opponents have been able to expose in Wawrinka since his return from the two knee surgeries he had last summer. Perhaps the most notable has been his movement. He has still looked slightly uncomfortable at times when he has been extended in rallies and he has been late to the ball more than once, forcing him to hit when out of position. If Bedene can keep Wawrinka moving, he may well find himself on the road to victory.
Bedene should provide a good test for Wawrinka. The Slovenian is a very clean ball striker and his forehand is dangerous. But he does not have any weapons that can match Wawrinka’s formidable arsenal. Nor, crucially, is Bedene a particularly adept defender. He will not back himself to outlast Wawrinka and that should make it easier for the Swiss to hit through him. Expect an exciting match, but one that ends in a three-set Wawrinka win.