2015 champion and last year’s losing finalist, Stan Wawrinka, begins another bid for French Open glory against the Spanish veteran Guillermo Garcia Lopez. For Wawrinka, it has been a nightmarish year of injury woes, and the Swiss has won just one match since February and just three all year. Garcia Lopez has had his fair share of injuries too and though his career is now surely approaching its end, he remains a dangerous opponent. Who will come out on top?
Wawrinka and Garcia Lopez have met ten times on Tour throughout their careers. Their first match, however, came in the semifinals at a Challenger in Barcelona in 2004, with Wawrinka winning in three, despite dropping the first set. They faced off again a year later, this time at the Barcelona Open, and Wawrinka was again the victor, winning comfortably 6-3 6-1. In 2009, when they clashed again, it was Garcia Lopez who won, dismissing the Swiss 6-2 6-4.
In their first meeting at a Slam, Wawrinka defeated Garcia Lopez in the first round at Melbourne Park in 2010, only for Garcia to level the head-to-head by beating Wawrinka in Madrid a year later. Wawrinka then picked up back-to-back straight sets wins against the Spaniard in 2013 in Casablanca and Den Bosch. But in 2014 at the French Open, Garcia Lopez stunned Wawrinka, who was then reigning Australian Open and Monte Carlo Masters champion in the first round. But Wawrinka hasn’t lost to Garcia Lopez since, winning their last three meetings.
Last time out
Wawrinka’s troubles continued with a disappointing loss to Marton Fucsovics in Geneva, after what had looked like a promising victory against Jared Donaldson in the second round. That followed a defeat to Steve Johnson in Rome which was his first competitive clay court match of the season. The manner of his defeats will be a concern to Wawrinka, particularly after losing the second set to love to Fucsovics, although the Hungarian did go on to win the title in Geneva.
Garcia Lopez found himself needing to qualify into the Monte Carlo Masters and the Italian Open, reaching the main draw at the former as a lucky loser and failing to qualify after losing to Filippo Baldi in Rome. He also competed in Barcelona and Madrid, winning two matches in Catalonia before losing to Nadal and suffering a first round defeat in the capital. Last week he reached the quarterfinals in Lyon, where he extended eventual champion Dominic Thiem to three sets in defeat.
How do they match up?
Both men deploy one-handed backhands and are at their best on the clay. Beyond that, they share little stylistically. Wawrinka is a hammer of a tennis player, dominating opponents from the back of the court with powerful groundstrokes and a formidable serve. The Swiss’ one-handed backhand is unquestionably the most potent in the game, if not the outright best. He will need it to be firing against Garcia Lopez, who covers the court well.
Indeed, his movement is central to his success, which explains why as he has aged, being now 34, his success has started to decrease. But, he still possesses a rock-solid forehand and a fine backhand. His serve leaves something to be desired in terms of power, but Garcia Lopez is a wily veteran of over 15 years on the Tour, and he has learned how to win in that time, with 284 Tour-level victories and five titles to his name.
This is a nightmarish first round draw for Wawrinka, who is still a long way from full-fitness. Garcia Lopez will no doubt be aware of this, and has the tools to turn this into a physical battle. From the tennis Wawrinka has been playing lately, it does not seem like a battle he would win. But nor can he currently rely on the big weapons that have fired him to so much success. The Swiss may well come again, but he will take a damaging defeat in four sets to Garcia Lopez here.