Stan Wawrinka and Radek Stepanek will be squaring off for the seventh time in their careers when they clash in round two of the Australian Open on Thursday. Stepanek leads the head-to-head series 4-2, but that hardly tells the true story. The Czech won the first four meetings between the two players and has not gotten the best of Wawrinka since 2009. Wawrinka won for the second time in a row at Stepanek’s expense via a 7-5, 6-3 decision last fall in Tokyo.
If Stepanek wanted to regain the upper hand against his fellow veteran, January is probably the last month he would pick in order to do so. After all, Wawrinka almost always storms out of the seasonal gates on fire. This year is no exception. The fourth-ranked Swiss won a fourth Chennai title two weeks ago and he cruised through his Melbourne opener on Tuesday, taking the first two sets from Dmitry Tursunov before getting a retirement.
“It’s amazing here for me,” Wawrinka said during his post-match press conference. “For me, winning [my] first Grand Slam was something really special. (I have) always played some good tennis. Coming back after 2014, winning here, it will always be different for me.”
It has already been an outstanding fortnight for Stepanek, who had to go through qualifying due to a ranking down at No. 188 in the world. The 37-year-old eased through those three matches then defeated Tatsuma Ito 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 on Tuesday.
“(He is) always a tough opponent,” Wawrinka commented. “He [qualified] here. (It is a) quite fast surface, so he should serve and volley, playing flat. If I’m serving well, playing well, aggressive, hopefully I can make it through.”
He should, because this is no longer a favorable matchup for Stepanek. The underdog will foray into the net on a consistent basis, but his opponent boasts one of the best passing shots in the business. Wawrinka is going to have too much firepower from all areas of the court in this one.
Prediction – Wawrinka in straight sets
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