Stan Wawrinka heads to the US Open beaming with confidence after two strong weeks in Toronto and Cincinnati saw him defeat a host of quality players before falling 6-7(2), 7-6(6), 6-2 to Roger Federer late on Friday.
Exactly a year ago, Wawrinka had just undergone two knee surgeries (on August 5 and August 13) and was unsure if and when he’d be able to get back to his top level.
After six months out of the game, the 33-year-old Swiss returned to competition at the Australian Open in January, before taking another break from mid-February to mid-May to work on his fitness.
Prior to his third-round showing in Toronto last week, Wawrinka had posted just six wins this year, against 11 losses and was still searching for form.
But a win over Nick Kyrgios in Canada, followed by a battling victory over Marton Fucsovics, in which he saved four match points, were positive signs for the three-time Grand Slam champion, and he went down fighting in two tight sets against eventual champion and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the last-16.
In Cincinnati, Wawrinka looked more and more like his vintage best, taking out the likes of Diego Schwartzman and Kei Nishikori on his way to the quarter-finals. Playing two matches in one day on Friday due to the rain-interrupted schedule, Wawrinka defeated Fucsovics for a second consecutive week, then gave Federer all sorts of trouble before losing in three sets.
“For sure it was a great level. I think I’m playing great in general,” said a proud Wawrinka after the defeat.
“I’m playing better every day, every week. Last week was really important and really good for myself, for my tennis, for my confidence. I played some good matches, tough matches, tough wins by not playing well, but then getting the confidence back. I practice a lot.
“I’m happy to see where I am right now. I had a tough match last week against Rafa. Close match, also. Today was against Roger. They are No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. I beat Schwartzman, I beat Nishikori, so the level is good.”
A champion at the US Open in 2016, Wawrinka has suddenly catapulted himself into the title contender conversation for New York but he insists it is more important for him to think long-term and where he will be at the start of next season, knowing he still has a lot to work on.
“I need to keep improving, keep working, keep doing the right thing and keep pushing myself. For sure tonight I’m sad and disappointed to lose, but for me it’s a big victory for myself after what I had last year. It was exactly one year ago. To see where I was also few weeks ago, I’m really happy to be here,” explained Wawrinka, who is expected to return to the top-100 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“For me, it’s kind of transition year, because I knew I didn’t start the year full. I had a lot of trouble with my knee, so I didn’t play the full year. So it’s more kind of a year to really push myself to get the proper ranking at the end of the year, get a lot of match, and get fit to make a great preparation for next year.”
Reunited with his former coach Magnus Norman, Wawrinka is happy to have the Swede back in his corner as he navigates this tricky comeback journey.
“I feel like that what happened last year it’s really far, but in the same times, if I’m remember few weeks ago, it was still really tough for me,” he added.
“I needed a lot of talk with my team, a lot of focus on the right thing, accepting things that’s happening, accepting that it takes time, that you need to be patient, knowing where you want to go.
“You need to do the right things every day and take a little bit distance with the result directly; not the result, I mean, winning matches but the result of how you improved, because you can have a lot of up-and-down after a big surgery like that.
“So that’s always tough that mentally you need to accept. But for sure today it’s easy to talk about it, but I had some really tough moments.”
Federer, who also had to play twice on Friday, entered his seventh career Cincinnati semi-final, where he takes on Belgium’s David Goffin. The Swiss has never lost a semi-final here and is happy he managed to scrape through against Wawrinka.
“Stan has the power, and I’m so glad he’s back on the tour and playing well and moving well,” said Federer.
“So I really enjoyed the match for what it was. It’s difficult to always play against him but I’m happy I was able to find a way in the breaker in the second, because it was a frustrating night for me, for the most period, and in the third I was able to find a way.”
Wawrinka has received a wildcard into the US Open main draw, which begins on Monday August 27.
Defending champion Dimitrov was down 6-2, 3-6, 1-2 when his clash with Novak Djokovic was halted on Thursday due to showers that have wreaked havoc with the schedule in Mason, Ohio over the past two days.
The Bulgarian, who now trails Djokovic 1-8 head-to-head, had a great start on Thursday, taking the opening set with two breaks, and losing just six points on serve in total. But Djokovic dug in and drew level before play was suspended.
Returning to Centre Court on Friday, Djokovic held on to the service break he had from the day before to complete the win and set up a quarter-final against Milos Raonic, scheduled shortly after on Friday.
Dimitrov, who started the week ranked No. 5 but will likely drop to No. 7 after his third-round exit, has not had the best results this season, despite finishing 2017 on a high, claiming the ATP Finals crown.
He’s taking lots of positives though from his quarter-final showing in Toronto last week, and his two matches in Cincinnati.
“It’s going to be up and down, for sure, I think. I haven’t played that many matches, so every match that I win or I play well, I want to take the positive out of it,” said the 27-year-old.
“And even if, from negative matches like last week when I lost to Anderson, I played a really bad match, but in the same time, I’m, like, okay, I need to try to get the best that I can from that situation, and, yeah, move forward. I mean, that’s all I have to think of right now and that US Open is around the corner.
“Yeah, absolutely. Take maybe couple of days off, maybe watch the match a little bit more, see what I could have done better or things that I need to focus on, keep on working and, yeah, I mean, we start again in New York.”
Dimitrov hasn’t defeated Djokovic since Madrid in 2013 and this was one of their closest matches since then.
“I got him exactly where I wanted him to be, and he also, in those moments, he just kind of relaxed a little bit and he started going for more, because that’s his only chance to beat me. Everything went his way, to be honest,” admitted Dimitrov.
Meanwhile, Kyrgios hit out at officiating in Cincinnati, and complained about a lengthy toilet break Juan Martin del Potro took in their third round on Friday.
Didn’t get a chance to talk to Kyrgios after his match but I guess I got his post-match thoughts anyway… pic.twitter.com/b8GcEvjzPN
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) August 17, 2018
The 23-year-old Aussie, a runner-up here last year, fell 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-2 to Del Potro, who left the court for a nine-minute toilet break after he dropped the second set, which angered an already irritated Kyrgios, who had been arguing with umpire Adel Nour over an interruption made by a line judge during play.
After the match, Kyrgios posted, then deleted, a post on his Instagram story that, in his opinion, summed up his week in Cincinnati.
“Two point penalties. Horrendous umpiring. Crazy toilet breaks,” read the post.
His mother Norlaila Kyrgios also weighed in on the matter saying on Twitter: “Something as ordinary as a toilet break is a debatable topic at this level of tennis. Does the player really need to go, or is it a ruse to buy time, clear the mind and alter momentum? Coincidentally, it’s usually when someone loses a set.”
Kyrgios, who has been struggling with a hip issue and played both his matches in Cincinnati with both knees taped, is likely to drop from 18 to 30 in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday – his lowest ranking since February 2016.
Nick Kyrgios tried to justify his tanking in the second set of his clash against Borna Coric at the Cincinnati Open.
According to the Australian, his decision to give less than his full effort in the second set allowed him to take the third set in the 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 win.
“In the second set when I was 4-0 down, I knew there was no real point in me going out there and competing and obviously wasting energy trying to battle back against a guy like that,” Kyrgios said.
See his full comments in the video below.