In what is surely the match of the second round in St Petersburg, three-time Grand Slam champion and former world #3 Stan Wawrinka takes on Russian #1 Karen Khachanov. Wawrinka, a finalist in St Petersburg two years ago, took a wildcard into the event this season after a difficult year due to injury, though his results have picked up impressively of late. But he will have his work cut out against Khachanov who has been playing some excellent tennis of late. Who will come out on top?
This will be the first meeting between Wawrinka and Khachanov. In terms of experience, it is unsurprisingly Wawrinka who has the advantage, having won three Majors and 13 other titles besides including the Monte Carlo Masters. Khachanov, meanwhile, has just two titles to his name. But he has had a much better year than the Swiss, having won 33 of the 51 matches he has played and the title in Marseille. Wawrinka has won just 13 matches all year and no titles.
Path to the second round
Wawrinka began his St Petersburg campaign against Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia. Wawrinka put Bedene under heavy pressure early in the match, with the Slovenian forced to save a number of break points in his first service game. But he did so and managed to stay with Wawrinka only for the Swiss to break late to take the opener 7-5. The second set was another close affair, but Wawrinka hung tough to take it in a tiebreak and reach the second round a 7-5 7-6 winner.
Khachanov, as the fourth seed, received a first-round bye and thus has not yet taken to the court. But he has been in impressive form of late. He played some fine tennis to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon, though he was well-beaten there by Djokovic, before reaching the semifinals in Toronto and the third round in Cincinnati. He then beat Albert Ramos Vinolas and Lorenzo Sonego to reach the third round at the US Open where he lost a four-set thriller to Rafael Nadal 7-5 5-7 6-7 6-7.
How do they match up?
This should be an entertaining clash between two big shot makers. Wawrinka has the power to trouble opponents from any position, but his offensive hallmark is his one-handed backhand. When he has time to unload on that shot it is amongst the most formidable weapons in the sport and one Khachanov will need to be wary of. His forehand is also powerful, but it is less technically sound than his backhand and as a result he tends to give up more errors from that wing.
Khachanov, in contrast, favours his forehand. It is a bruising shot, hit with a potent mixture of pace and spin and Khachanov will look to use it to keep Wawrinka moving. He is also comfortable stepping in to his backhand, but it is not as reliable a weapon as his forehand. Both men are equipped with powerful first serves and neither are at their best returning. Thus maintaining a high first serve percentage could well prove crucial.
Khachanov has gone slightly under the radar so far in 2018, but he is having a superb year. He reached the fourth round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon and has delivered very creditable performances even when up against the game’s very best. Wawrinka, at long last, looks to be on the mend, but even were he at his best Khachanov would provide a stern test. Expect a straight sets win for a Khachanov backed by his home crowd.