Stan Wawrinka was made to work, but the former World No. 3 completed a successful return to competition at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Prague. Wawrinka resumed his 2020 campaign with a gritty 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 win over Roman Safiullin on Monday afternoon.
In his first competitive match since the professional circuit was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Swiss needed one hour and 51 minutes to move past Safiullin. He converted six of 13 break chances and fired five aces to prevail.
After nearly six months on the sidelines, Wawrinka acknowledged that while it wasn’t easy, he’s happy with his performance in the deciding set.
“It was as expected, after six months being out,” said Wawrinka. “I came here to find some rhythm and check where I am. I’m happy for the victory for sure. There’s a lot of work to do, but the most important thing was to win the match, so I can play again here.”
The World No. 17 has returned to the ATP Challenger Tour for a pair of tournaments in the Czech capital. In search of form and confidence, he admits that getting back in the competitive mode again is a critical first step.
“I think he played better [in the second set],” Wawrinka added. “I was moving slower and wasn’t aggressive enough. Again, I’m here to play as much as I can. It’s different from practising all the time. I’m far from where I want to be, but that’s the reason I’m here. It’s a process and it takes time after so many months away from the competition.”
Wawrinka entered the I.CLTK Prague Open by Moneta with an 8-3 record at the tour-level this year. He opened the season with a semi-final run in Doha and reached back-to-back quarter-finals at the Australian Open and ATP 500 event in Acapulco.
The 35-year-old will next face Germany’s Oscar Otte in the Round of 16, after Otte earned a 6-2, 6-3 win over 13th seed Arthur Rinderknech on Monday. The World No. 217 dropped his only previous meeting with a Top 20 opponent, falling to Roger Federer at Roland Garros last year.
Other winners on Day 3 in Prague included sixth seed Sumit Nagal of India and former World No. 36 Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The Frenchman opened his restart with a comeback victory over Czech teen Jonas Forejtek. He prevailed 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 to set an encounter with another Czech, Zdenek Kolar. Former World No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber punched his ticket to the last 16 as well, defeating Mats Moraing 6-1, 7-6(3).
The youth movement is alive in the Czech Republic, with local teenagers Jiri Lehecka and Tomas Machac both earning straight-set upsets over seeded opponents. Making just his sixth Challenger appearance, 18-year-old Lehecka defeated Blaz Rola 6-4, 7-6(4), while 19-year-old Machac stopped Ilya Ivashka 6-0, 7-5. Machac is looking to build on his maiden Challenger title in February, having triumphed on the indoor hard courts of Koblenz, Germany.
Photos: Martin Sidorjak