Wawrinka comeback stalls at French Open


Associated Press

PARIS

Like Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka is a past French Open champion still working his way back into form after surgery.

Like Djokovic, Wawrinka is ranked lower than he has been in more than a decade. And like Djokovic, Wawrinka recently reunited with a coach who helped guide him to success earlier in his career.

Both men were in first-round action at Roland Garros on Monday, but unlike Djokovic, who won in straight sets, Wawrinka could not summon and sustain the sort of high-level play that has carried him to major titles in Paris and elsewhere.

Returning to a place where he won the title in 2015 and made it back to the final a year ago, Wawrinka bowed out with a 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to 67th-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain.

“I won three Grand Slams in my career, and I know what it takes to do it,” said Wawrinka, who was seeded 23rd and is ranked only 30th, territory unfamiliar to him since April 2008. “And my goal is to get to my top. Sooner or later, I will.”

Wawrinka only recently returned to the tour after missing three months to rest his left knee, which was operated on twice last August. He’s played 11 matches in 2018, going 4-7.

As Monday’s match stretched to 31/2 hours, Wawrinka was hindered by the physical strain of playing in a fifth set for the first time since his French Open semifinal victory over Andy Murray a year ago.

But that wasn’t the biggest impediment to success.

“It was more the difficulty of continuing to go for it mentally,” he explained.

The owner of one of the prettiest one-handed backhands in the sport, Wawrinka — who is again working with coach Magnus Norman — only managed 12 winners, compared with 35 unforced errors, with that shot.

He finished with 72 unforced errors in all, 32 more than Garcia-Lopez, who never has been past the fourth round at a major tournament.

“There is no frustration. It’s just tough,” said the 33-year-old Wawrinka, who’s been as high as No. 3 in the rankings. “But I’m on the right way. It was very close today.”

Djokovic — a former No. 1 now ranked 22nd, his worst spot since 2006 — beat 134th-ranked qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, quickly recovering after dropping the opening two games.

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