Stan Wawrinka has never beaten Daniil Medvedev – can the 2014 Australian Open champion find a way to overturn that record and return to the quarterfinals in Melbourne?
Medvedev vs Wawrinka is live from Melbourne on Monday 27 January at 3pm local/4am GMT
Both previous meetings between Medvedev and Wawrinka have gone the Russian’s way by similar scorelines, with Medvedev beating Wawrinka in four sets at Wimbledon in 2017 and in four sets at the US Open last year, both times winning the final set 6-1.
Some of us were very curious to see how Medvedev would handle the increased pressure and expectation that would come with being the fourth seed at a major after his superb 2019 season, which included a breakthrough run to the final of the US Open and a stretch of reaching finals at six consecutive tournaments, including winning maiden Masters 1000 Series titles in Cincinnati and Shanghai.
After pushing Rafael Nadal all the way in a five-set thriller at the US Open, the lanky, temperamental Russian seemed to have established himself as the likeliest challenger to the almost unbroken hegemony enjoyed over the Grand Slam titles by the Big Three, and the best candidate to become the first active player under 30 to win a major. But his 2019 season did end with a bit of a whimper when he lost his opening match at the Paris Masters and then all three of his round-robin encounters on his ATP Finals debut before pulling out of the Davis Cup Finals.
So far, however, Medvedev has looked pretty strong in 2020. He went 4-1 at the ATP Cup, with his only defeat coming to Novak Djokovic in three sets, and he has breezed through the first three rounds in Melbourne for the loss of just one set, which came in what could have been a tricky first round against 2019 quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe.
Admittedly Medvedev hasn’t faced the toughest opposition in the last couple of rounds: Little-known qualifier Pedro Martinez and then big-hitting Alexei Popyrin, who was hampered both physically and by the occasion as he went down meekly 4-6, 3-6, 2-6 on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday.
That’s clearly about to change as Medvedev prepares to face Wawrinka.
Wawrinka broke through as a major winner at the 2014 Australian Open and, of course, went on to win the French Open in 2015 and the US Open in 2016 before suffering his first defeat in a Grand Slam final at the 2017 French Open and missing the last six months of the season as he underwent multiple knee surgeries.
Wawrinka hasn’t got back to that same pre-surgery level yet, although he did reach the quarterfinals of the French and US Opens in 2019 and break back into the top 20 as a result, with his best wins of the year coming over Stefanos Tsitsipas at Roland Garros and over Djokovic in New York, although that did come via retirement.
A semifinalist in Doha to start the year, where he lost to Corentin Moutet, Wawrinka dropped a set against Damir Dzumhur in the first round and had to battle for over three and a half hours against Italian veteran Andreas Seppi in the second round, coming back from two sets to one down. Afterwards Wawrinka confessed that he had been ill before the match and had had to throw up twice during it.
Under the circumstances, it was fortunate for Wawrinka that John Isner retired trailing 4-6, 1-4 in the third round, and the Swiss did say afterwards that he was feeling a lot better. But having undergone an illness during the tournament, even if it’s not behind him, doesn’t bode well, particularly when the match against Medvedev is inevitably going to be so physical.
The Russian is such a superb defender, he gets everything back and rarely misses, meaning that lengthy, grinding rallies are absolutely inevitable. Wawrinka is possessed of incredible explosive power, enough to hit through Medvedev, but not without building and constructing points; there’s no way to beat Medvedev quickly.
Were it not for being sick earlier in the week, I would say that an inspired Wawrinka actually has a better chance than the head-to-head suggests, because he was not physically 100% in either of their previous matches and Medvedev, as is well known, is prone to meltdowns even when everything seems to be going his way. But as matters stand, it seems likely that Medvedev will physically outlast Wawrinka once more to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the first time.