The sound of a cheeky champagne cork popping from the stands set off a wave of suppressed laughter as Stan Wawrinka stepped up to the chalk late in his first-round match.
A premature celebration, perhaps, but it failed to distract the Swiss world No.3 as he set about justifying his standing in the game’s elite with a confident opening victory over Joao Sousa.
The burden of entering the Grand Slam winners’ fray proved too much for Wawrinka in his last outing at a major, but on the closer confines of Wimbledon’s No.2 Court on Tuesday he made it safely through his opening match at SW19 for the first time since 2011 with the 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 result against a Portuguese opponent making his Wimbledon debut.
Having forged his way to a comfortable two-sets lead, Wawrinka looked to be coasting as he prepared to serve early in the third set. Fans could have been mistaken for thinking they were trackside under sunny skies at Royal Ascot, with the sudden sound of the champagne bottle opening.
In any case, by this point, Stan was a heavy race favourite about to pull away in the home straight.
Stepping into the court with authority at 3-3 in the third, he whipped two big forehand winners to snare the crucial break and his typical scream of “Allez” was switched to the English “C’mon” as he walked to the chair.
Avoiding having to serve the match out, the No.5 seed brought up match point with a forehand pass and took it when Sousa pushed wide; the perfect rebound from a dismal French Open and last year’s first-round exit to Lleyton Hewitt.
“The pressure is always there. My loss in Paris didn't change that about the pressure,” Wawrinka said. “It's a different tournament. I had time to think about that. I had time to get ready for here. I know that I can make some damage here, but I need to be focused for the next one.”
As only the second player in nine years to have won a major outside of the ‘Big Four’ in Melbourne earlier this year, Wawrinka’s results since have been underwhelming. Barring a maiden Masters 1000 victory in Monte Carlo over his countryman Roger Federer, he floundered on the clay, before regrouping to reach the semi-finals as top seed on the grass at Queen’s last week.
“I was home in Switzerland [after the loss in Paris], take some day off with my family. I was still watching the French Open, but took some time for me,” he said. “The season never stop, especially between French Open and grass court season. You don't have time, so you have to be ready. I decided to come early and play Queen's this year.”
It might be too soon for Wawrinka’s fans to go popping the champagne corks just yet, but their front-runner has had a good spell and extra time on the grass this year. Wawrinka is off and running.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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