Stan Serves Up Vintage Performance Against Khachanov
Stan Wawrinka played impressive tennis in Doha on Tuesday to defeat World No. 11 and doubles partner Karen Khachanov 7-6(7), 6-4 in the first round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.
It was a vintage performance from the former World No. 3, who used his backhand to outhit Khachanov, who was one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour at the end of the 2018 season. While third-seeded Khachanov won one more point than the World No. 66 in the match, Wawrinka saved all four break points he faced en route to his one-hour, 42-minute victory.
"Today was a great match, a great level," Wawrinka said. "I was happy with the off-season I did. I worked long and really hard, hard enough to know that sooner or later it will pay off. I'm feeling good physically. Tennis-wise, also. Today is the first match of a year against an in-form player, who won Paris last year... so I'm happy with the way I was playing today."
It was a tantalising match-up the moment the draw was made in Qatar. And the level lived up to its billing, as both players showed little rust in their first match of the season. Wawrinka did especially well tactically off his backhand wing, consistently looping heavy cross-court angles, before smacking backhand winners down the line on the next ball. It wasn't that Khachanov, who won his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title two months ago at the Rolex Paris Masters, did not play well — Wawrinka was simply better and more consistent on the big points.
Wawrinka also beat Khachanov in two tie-breaks less than four months ago in St. Petersburg in their only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting. The Swiss has now saved nine of 11 break points he has faced against Khachanov. He will next face another big hitter in Chilean Nicolas Jarry, who defeated Robin Haase on Monday, for the first time.
"It was a new match, a new season for sure. Also, he won a Tour title after I beat him in St Petersburg, so he's much more confident," Wawrinka said of Khachanov. "He is playing better. But also he's improved a lot since four months ago when I played him. It was important to take a few things from that match more in the tactical way and more thinking the way I was going to play."
Sixth seed David Goffin was also eliminated, as Ricardas Berankis beat the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) in two hours and 18 minutes. The Lithuanian will play Dusan Lajovic, who beat Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 7-6(5), for a spot in the quarter-finals at the ATP 250 event.
In other action, fourth seed Marco Cecchinato got his season off to a good start with a 6-4, 6-2 triumph against qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky. The Italian, who was victorious in Umag and Budapest last year, will next face Guido Pella, who ousted Cem Ilkel 7-6(1), 6-3.
Did You Know?
Wawrinka and Khachanov were on the same side of the net in Doha on Monday, falling short against Goffin and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.