At age 30, Stan Wawrinka feels he is still improving. And Tuesday’s first-round victory turned out to be more proof of that.
The top-seeded Swiss got off to a good start in his fourth Japan Open appearance by scoring a 7-5, 6-3 win over Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum.
For world No. 4, Wawrinka, who has secured a berth to this year’s ATP World Tourl Finals, it was only his second victory over Stepanek. The other win came at the 2013 U.S. Open after he lost all of their previous four meetings from 2005-09.
“I’m playing better tennis than before, that’s for sure,” Wawrinka said. “In the past, it was never easy to play that kind of player (like Stepanek) doing serve and volley, coming to the net a lot to put pressure and not allowing you to build the rhythm. Now I feel more confident in my game and generally I feel better against that kind of player.”
Although he has two Grand Slam championships under his belt, those titles have come just recently for Wawrinka. He won his first Grand Slam event at the Australian Open last year at age of 28 and the other one came at this year’s French Open two months after he turned 30.
“(Compared to younger days,) I’m mentally stronger for sure, and I can find more solutions on the court and control the stress l feel,” Wawrinka said.
Wawrinka set the tone with his strong serves and powerful passing shots for a 4-1 lead in the first set. Then the Swiss became erratic with his backhand strokes and lost four of the next five games to make it 5-5, before regaining his concentration to win the final two games of the opening set.
Two service aces gave momentum to Wawrinka and he needed only 37 minutes to take the second set for the victory. He had 11 service aces in all and the last one came on match point.
Next up in Wednesday’s second round is wild card Tatsuma Ito, who upset Wawrinka in the opening round at last year’s Japan Open.
“I lost to (Ito) last year here and I remember that,” Wawrinka said. “It wasn’t a good match at all. I was not in good condition at this time last year. But I’m playing much better now and I felt very good today. I just go out there and try to play my game and play aggressively.”
Meanwhile, Gilles Muller of Luxembourg upset No. 5 Kevin Anderson of South Africa 6-2, 6-3.
Fourth seed Richard Gasquet lost to an unseeded opponent at the Japan Open on Tuesday at Ariake Colosseum.
Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut defeated Gasquet, the 2007 tourney winner, 6-4, 6-1. The French world No. 11 struggled mightily to hold his serve, dropping seven of the 13 break points he faced in nine service games.
Eight seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria also was ousted 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. The world No. 21 dropped the third set 6-1 after squaring the match at one set all against French 26-year-old Benoit Paire.
French fifth seed Giles Simon, advanced with little trouble, beating Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-4.
Australian players had a day to forget in Tokyo on Tuesday. Both Sam Groth and Bernard Tomic were forced to withdraw from their first-round matches. Groth pulled out of his match with a foot injury, while one set and two games down to Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. Tomic retired due to illness against Steve Johnson of the United States, losing 6-3, 2-1. The only Australian player to advance was Nick Kyrgios, who beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas in three sets.
In a battle between veterans Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Verdasco it was the Cypriot Baghdatis who prevailed 7-5, 6-1.
Bouchard out in Beijing
A teary-eyed Eugenie Bouchard retired from her opening match against Andrea Petkovic at the China Open due to dizziness on Monday, her first match since falling at the U.S. Open last month and suffering a concussion.
The Canadian was trailing 6-2, 1-1 against Petkovic on Monday when she decided to call it quits.
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