It had been 21 years since two Grand Slam champions met in the first round of the men’s singles draw at Roland-Garros -- Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Michael Chang were the protagonists, back in 1999.
Heavy-handed Stan leaves Murray looking in mirror
Wawrinka barrelled past Murray in a rare first-round meeting of former Grand Slam champions
If it was statistical symmetry that started the evening, it would be a skewed scoreline that would end it as Wawrinka -- the man who put the animal in Stanimal -- welcomed Murray back to the fabled Court Philippe-Chatrier with a sublime 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 trouncing.
Judging from the run of play, it looks like Wawrinka is one of the few players powerful enough to barrel his way through the heavy conditions in Paris this year.
“I know I can be aggressive,” Wawrinka said after his one hour and 37-minute triumph. “I know I can put some heavy balls out there, and I can keep playing heavy balls each ball. That's important, the way I'm playing, focusing on keeping my game. I'm happy with it.”
For 2015 champion Wawrinka, who took down Murray in five grueling sets the last time they shared centre court in Paris in 2017, this contest was a stark contrast to many of the pair’s previous encounters.
“We actually practiced the first day I arrived here, and it was a tough practice. So I was expecting a tough match,” Wawrinka said. “I was really focused, with a champion like Andy, even if the scoreboard is only one side like today, you have to keep focus. You never know what can happen.”
Unbothered by Murray from start to finish, Wawrinka blasted away from the baseline and left an uncharacteristically quiet Murray to ponder his own ability to impact a rivalry in which he used to play a starring role.
Wawrinka, who improved to 43-14 lifetime at Roland-Garros, rises to 9-12 lifetime against Murray with the victory. Afterwards he said it was difficult for him to compare Murray’s level to where it was five years ago.
Despite the lopsided result, Wawrinka acknowledged how special it was to renew one of this era’s classic rivalries.
“Andy won everything that you can win in tennis,” he said. “He was No.1. He had an amazing career. He's been back now after having some surgery, hip surgery. Nobody expected him to come back on the tour. He's getting back. He's an amazing champion. It's always going to be special to play against him.”
Murray says he’s eager to take a good look in the mirror after suffering one of his worst defeats ever on the Grand Slam stage.
“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” he told reporters after the match. “It's not, for me, the sort of match I would just brush aside and not give any thought to. There are obviously reasons behind a performance like that. I think that's probably in terms of scoreline, I might be wrong, but I think that's the worst defeat maybe of my career in a Grand Slam.”
The six games garnered matches Murray's lowest total in a Grand Slam match. He also claimed only six games against Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals at Roland-Garros in 2014.
Some wonder if Murray might be better served by tinkering with his game so that he might rely less on his ability to cover the court with his speed and tenacity. He was asked by a reporter if he has considered becoming a more offensive player at this stage of his career.
“If you consider when I play my best tennis or when I played my best tennis, I know what that looks like,” he said. “You know, it's not going around blasting balls and serving and volleying and stuff.”