Wawrinka passes Koepfer and homework tests

Swiss 2015 champion brushes off explosion scare to book third-round berth

Stan Wawrinka, Roland-Garros 2020©Philippe Montigny / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

It must have been some premonition Stan Wawrinka had practising with Dominic Thiem and Andy Murray a day apart on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Having elected to bypass the US hard-court swing and short on match play on the red dirt leading in, the 2015 champion rolled out the big guns to get a feel for the heavier conditions at Roland-Garros in this most unusual of years.

“You can’t be first now? Why are you late to practice? One slam and that’s all normal,” he jibed when newly-crowned US Open champion Thiem kept the three-time major winner waiting.

Two days later, he had drawn Murray in the opening round with Thiem his likely fourth-round opponent, should the seedings hold.

As they say, no easy matches at a Slam, but the possibility he could have to beat four Grand Slam champions to land the Coupe des Mousquetaires five years after his first is a short straw to draw.

There were no lingering hang-ups from a surprise exit to Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti in Rome when Wawrinka went on to wallop fellow triple major winner Murray on Sunday. And barring a loud explosion and a third-set blip, he faced few scares against the in-form German Dominik Koepfer on Wednesday.

The bang in just the second game of the match, it emerged, came from a fighter jet breaking the speed of sound. Not enough to faze the Swiss as he duly delivered a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 result.

“I was shocked like everybody. For sure, we ask the umpire to let me know what was it,” Wawrinka said. “Everybody had the answer quite early, so was all good.”

Much like his showdown with Murray, Wawrinka, too, had the answer early on against the world No.61.

French wild card Hugo Gaston, a 20-year-old ranked No.239, could be in for a baptism of fire in his third-round debut should Wawrinka conjure up more of the same.

Having returned to the top 20, a run to the quarter-finals in the 35-year-old Wawrinka’s post knee-surgery turn on tour won’t necessarily suffice. There was not a hint of a smirk when he assessed his chances of pushing deeper again this fortnight.

“I'm ready for it. I've been practising right. I'm feeling good,” Wawrinka said. “I like the condition here. I enjoy being back playing a Grand Slam.

“It's great to be able and have the chance to play this year [Roland-Garros]. Seeing what's happening in the world, it's something different. We are lucky to be able to play here.”

Two knee surgeries delivered ample perspective when forced to spend time away from competition but paled in significance to this year’s lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an Instagram live chat with Novak Djokovic during the lockdown, Wawrinka revealed he had taken to helping his 10-year-old daughter, Alexia, with her homework, although he was not so convinced she was advancing under his tutelage.

“I don’t feel she is lucky to have a teacher like me,” he said.  

Wawrinka made the most of the rare privilege to spend this extended time with his daughter back home.

“I have to say honestly that I took the lockdown in the right way, the chance to be in Switzerland where we had the chance to still be able to go out, be able to spend time with my daughter,” he said.

“Also it was a great time for that… The most difficult part was I think – for me, I'm a lucky person. I have a good life. I had a great career already. When you see what's happening around the world, like, I really cannot complain about my situation.”

A 10-year-old’s homework, a sonic boom and a rough Roland-Garros draw – Wawrinka is taking it all in his stride in 2020.