When Stan Wawrinka saved match points against Sergiy Stakhovsky last week, he would never have guessed they would play again so soon. The two face off in the Dubai first round at 7pm local time (3pm GMT.)
It was a rough week for Stan Wawrinka in Marseille, as his 2016 looked increasingly to be on a downward slope. A fourth straight title in Chennai to begin the season – fending off rising talent Borna Coric in the final – looked promising, but a Melbourne shock let him down. Drawn into the half of Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, safely shielded from top seed Novak Djokovic and legend Roger Federer until the final round, inconsistent Wawrinka was for once expected to go extremely deep at a major.
But there were dangers lurking in the draw, and the Swiss had the misfortune of drawing resurging Milos Raonic in round four. Still, while the big-serving Canadian was in the best form of his life, on fire, it was a match 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka should have won. He did not: falling in five sets after being down two to love. And things have not brightened since then. He has now been match point down in three straight matches, having lost in the Marseille quarterfinals – his second match of the tournament – to no. 8 seed Benoit Paire. Wawrinka was the event's top seed, and had won five of his previous six matches against the Frenchman. The then-world-no. 22, who had already fallen to the Swiss this year, had not beaten him since 2013.
Prior to this meeting with Paire was, of course, the clash with Sergiy Stakhovsky. Most famous for his stunning second round win over Roger Federer at 2013 Wimbledon – in which the Ukrainian served-and-volleyed his way to one of the most shocking upsets in tennis history – Stakhovsky also had Wawrinka among his list of notable scalps prior to their Open 13 meeting. Therefore it was not such a surprise – also considering Wawrinka's up-and-down form – when the then-world-no. 89 took the first set 6-4.
When Stan Wawrinka levelled with his own 6-4 set and the match went to a deciding tiebreak, Stakhovsky recovered from 4-1 down to get to 6-5 and then 8-7, gaining two match points in total. But both opportunities came on the Wawrinka serve, and 30-year-old Stakhovsky could not take advantage. With a brilliant backhand pass on his own 9-8 match point, the world no. 4 secured a 10-8 tiebreak triumph – winning a match so tough that the Swiss no. 2 actually ripped out a celebration.
Undoubtedly, with the taste if a painfully narrow defeat still in his mouth, Sergiy Stakhovsky will jump at the chance to avenge his defeat. But will the confidence of having pulled off his recent triumph leave Stan Wawrinka too confident to overcome?
Wawrinka and Stakhovsky have faced off three times in total – the recent Marseille match included – and not a one has been easy. In their only ever outdoor hard-court meeting, at the 2012 US Open, the higher-ranked Wawrinka dropped the first set before securing a 6-7(6) 7-6(2) 6-4 6-2 triumph. Between then and this month, there has only been one other meeting – and it was there that the Ukrainian claimed his only win. While it was a three-set battle, it was amazingly till their least competitive clash. In the Marseille quarterfinals of 2015, Stakhovsky was a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victor. And twice last week the world no. 91 was a single point away from leading their head-to-head 2-1.
Who will rise highest on Tuesday? No. 2 seed Stan Wawrinka faces Sergiy Stakhovsky at 7pm Dubai time (3pm GMT.)