Stan out, still hampered by left knee

 - Kate Battersby

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez topples 2015 champion Wawrinka for the second time in Paris.

Stan Wawrinka’s latest attempt at a conclusive comeback from the left knee injury which has already cost him three months of the 2018 season ended in discouraging defeat at Roland-Garros.

The world No.67 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez outlasted the 2015 French Open champion to win 6-2 3-6 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 victory in three hours and 30 minutes – a result which will see Wawrinka’s world ranking plummet to No.256.

The Swiss was repeatedly hampered on his serve and movement around Court Suzanne-Lenglen, requiring an injury timeout in the first set. The culprit looked certain to be the left knee problem which saw his 2017 season curtailed by surgery last August. Yet afterwards Wawrinka insisted the knee pain here was entirely unrelated, and that it had all cleared up less than half an hour after the handshake at the net.

“My knee is good, completely fine,” he said. “Completely unconnected [to the previous injury]. I just felt a really strange pain on the same knee, on the side, so I wanted to fix it. The physio just manipulated it a little bit and now there is no after-effect. I’m happy with that. What dominates mostly is mental tiredness. I was very close to winning.

“The ranking doesn’t lie. For sure, I’m going to require some wildcards. If I have to play Challenger [tournaments], I don’t have a problem with that. I won three Grand Slams in my career and I know what it takes to do it. I’m playing well, feeling good and I’m ready to win.”

It wasn’t as if Wawrinka, runner-up here just 12 months ago, was facing an obligingly straightforward opponent. With three clay-court titles to his name, the experienced Spaniard – who turns 35 next week – was never going to be a pushover. They met in the first round here four years ago, the last time he beat Wawrinka; and coming into this match Garcia-Lopez still led their career jousts on clay 3-2.

Garcia-Lopez's favourite film is Gladiator, and he was up for the battle here. Wawrinka came out of the blocks and fell flat on his face, losing his opening serve to love and closing out that game with a double fault to boot. In his attempt to right the ship, he went for the lines with shot after shot, but 23 times in that first set he missed the target; and he was unable to find as much launching power as he would want from his left leg during his service.

At 2-4 he began squatting down on his haunches, then flexing his left knee, and at deuce, having already saved two break points in that game, he went to his chair while both the trainer and doctor attended him.

It was too late to save the first set, but a change of shirt (from blue to white, fact fans) at the start of the second signalled a fresh start. He began to look more assured, with the divine backhand of old occasionally lighting up the court. Meantime the Spaniard’s winner count plummeted from the levels he achieved in the opener, which was just as well for Wawrinka, as it was difficult to imagine him triumphing in this one from two sets down.

Nonetheless, it was destined to go into the decider. Early in the fourth, having gone a break up, he was flexing the problem limb again throughout the 3-2 changeover, and soon after lost his advantage. The ensuing breaker was close, but Wawrinka couldn’t hang on.

He must have been dreading a fifth set, and it duly proved too much. For the second time in his 15-year history at Roland-Garros, Guillermo-Lopez sent Wawrinka packing.