Stan Wawrinka’s first experience as a top seed at a Masters 1000 event has gone smoothly so far as the Swiss comfortably set up a Miami Open third round meeting against Malek Jaziri thanks to a 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos on Saturday.
In the absence of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are both nursing right elbow injuries, Wawrinka finds himself at the top of the draw for the first time at an event at this level and the Swiss world No3 seems unfazed by the occasion.
Murray and Djokovic have had somewhat of an inconsistent start to 2017. While each of them has captured a title in the first three months of the year, they both uncharacteristically lost early at the Australian Open last January. Murray also lost his opener to world No129 Vasek Pospisil in Indian Wells earlier this month while Djokovic suffered two losses to Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco and Indian Wells.
The world top-two’s shock defeats have made way for the resurgence of Roger Federer, who returned from a six-month injury layoff to win the Australian Open in his first official tournament back, followed by a title run at Indian Wells.
Rafael Nadal has also slowly gathered some steam thanks to making finals in Melbourne and Acapulco.
Does Wawrinka sense there could be an opportunity for him to finally crack the top-two for the first time?
“Yes and no. Yes because for sure if you look, Andy and Novak, they’ve been struggling the first three months of the year. That’s it. They are a little bit injured now, so we’re going to see what’s going to happen. But you have Roger playing so well. Rafa also playing well,” Wawrinka told reporters in Miami ahead of his third round against Tunisia’s Jaziri on Monday.
“Again, the opportunity can only come if you play well, only if you win matches, win tournaments, win big tournaments. That’s all I’m focused on. I don’t accept to improve my ranking just because another player is not playing well. I expect to improve my ranking if I deserve it and if I make the point, make the win. That’s it.”
Nadal is No2 in the ATP Race to London, behind leader Federer, and is slowly approaching his previous grand slam-winning form. He still tips Murray and Djokovic though to rule the roost and is not ready to make any bold declarations about himself just yet.
“The year just started,” said the Mallorcan. “We have nine Masters 1000s, we only played one. We have four grand slams, we only played one. We have a lot of 500 tournaments; we only played couple of them. So it’s true that Roger started unbelievable and that’s great. Is true that probably Andy and Novak didn’t start as well as they did last couple of years. But in my opinion, they are probably favourites because they have been there for the last couple of years playing more consistently than what we did.
“So it’s very early. I feel that I am playing well. I can talk about myself. It’s obvious that Roger is playing great, but the year just started. Just let’s see what happens here, and let’s see what happens especially for me after this tournament that I have five tournaments that probably – not the most important of the year, but one of the most important.”
Canadian world No5 Milos Raonic is back from a one-month hamstring injury layoff and has been following the action from afar.
He echoed Nadal’s views and feels the momentum can swing suddenly in the world of tennis.
“I think it’s just like an opening. I think Roger stepped up and he’s played some great tennis. He’s really stepped up,” said the 26-year-old Raonic.
“Obviously Novak hasn’t been at his best, Andy hasn’t been at his best, so it’s been Roger’s year so far. But at the same time, it’s a year that’s long. Andy, throughout these two tournaments last year, didn’t play so well, and then all of a sudden he gets on a very strong tear throughout clay, grass, and finishes the season and the year No1.
“So there is plenty more tennis to be played, as I’m sure everybody is well aware of and guys are working towards.”