Stan Wawrinka competes at the Swiss Indoors in Basel for the first time since 2016 when he takes on Uruguayan, Pablo Cuevas in the first round on Wednesday.
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Wawrinka missed the tournament in 2017 due to a knee injury that required multiple surgeries and kept him out for most of the second half of that season, while he sat out last year’s edition after injuring his back during a practice session on the eve of the tournament. He did not play again for the rest of the season, finishing the year at No. 66 on the rankings.
The former world No. 3 had dropped as low as 263rd in June last year after initially struggling on his return from injury, but he found some form towards the end of the year, reaching the semi-finals in St. Petersburg, the quarter finals in Cincinnati, and the round of sixteen in Montreal and the US Open to work his way back into the top-70.
Wawrinka has had an up and down 2019, but he has done enough to get back into the top 20, and into the top-15 in the Race to London, giving himself a fighting chance of returning to the season ending finals for the first time since 2016.
Wawrinka is 30-18 for the season, with his best results being runner-up finishes in Rotterdam in February (lost to Gael Monfils), and Antwerp, where he was beaten by Andy Murray over the weekend. He has also made quarter finals at Roland Garros and the US Open, as well as in Doha, Acapulco and Madrid. While he could not get over the line in Antwerp last week, that run to the final still marked an encouraging return to the tour, as the Swiss had missed the entire Asian swing due to a knee injury.
Wawrinka continues to search for his first title since May 2017, when he won the ATP 250 tournament in Geneva. The three-time major winner is a two-time semi-finalist in Basel (2006 and 2011), but his recent record at the event has not been great, as he has made just one quarter final in his last five appearances, suffering three opening round defeats. He will be looking to avoid that fate when he plays Pablo Cuevas on Wednesday.
Cuevas is 24-21 in 2019, but majority of those wins have come on clay, on which he made a final in Estoril, reached semi-finals in Cordoba and Rio, and got to the third round at Roland Garros.
He has struggled on quicker surfaces, winning a combined four tour-level matches on grass and hard courts all season. He has also been in a very poor run of form in the second half of the season, as he hasn’t won back-to-back matches since reaching the third round at Roland Garros. He has suffered five first round defeats in that period, winning just four main draw matches.
One of those wins was in Antwerp last week, where he defeated Hugo Dellien to snap a three-match losing streak in ATP main draws, but his tournament was ended by eventual champion, Andy Murray in the second round.
Despite his recent form, Cuevas, who started the year just inside the top-90, has maintained a top-50 ranking for pretty much the entire second half of the year, but a lot of that has got to do with his more productive first five months, where he had those aforementioned finals and semi-finals. He also had a couple of very good stints on the Challenger Tour, winning titles in Tunis in April and at Aix en Provence in France in May.
One positive Cuevas can draw on heading into Wednesday’s Basel meeting with Stan Wawrinka is that he has a winning record over the Swiss, as he was a 6-4 6-4 victor in their only previous encounter in Monte Carlo in 2017. However, it is worth noting that unlike that Monte Carlo meeting, which was staged on clay, Wednesday’s reunion will be contested on the quick hard courts of Basel, which immediately hands the advantage to Wawrinka. The Swiss does have a tendency to go walkabouts during matches, but this is one he should be winning, considering how Cuevas has struggled on quicker surfaces. Wawrinka, on the other hand, has already made two finals on indoor hard courts this season.
Stan Wawrinka vs Pablo Cuevas is live from Basel on Wednesday, 23 October from 5:00pm local time/ 4:00pm BST