The first round’s over in the Australian Open and no giants have been toppled yet, but two are already exposing their vulnerabilities: No. 4 seed Stan Wawrinka and No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori were both stretched to five sets in their opening matches.
You never know which Stan Wawrinka you’re going to get at the outset of a tournament—maybe he’ll steamroll right through the first four rounds, or maybe he’ll combust and blast errant forehands all over the court—and this one took three hours and 24 minutes to dispatch Martin Klizan, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Perhaps the Swiss was venting some frustration with this approach shot to Klizan’s jewels in the deciding set:
More likely, Wawrinka just made a strategically sound shot—right at the body—at a crucial juncture of the match. “I’m sorry I touch him in the wrong place,” he apologized in the post-game presser. Given that Wawrinka rips some of the hardest groundstrokes in the game, it’d be a shock if that forehand was going any slower than 80 mph. Klizan’s future offspring will be grateful that his racket frame deflected the blow.
Elsewhere, Kei Nishikori went up 5-2 in the fourth against Andrey Kuznetzov before letting the Russian claw his way back into the match, but he closed it out, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-2. Over his career, the Japanese player boasts a 100-30 record in deciding sets, good for the all-time best winning percentage. Down the stretch there were occasional flashes of the precise, attacking baseline style that make him such a difficult opponent to outhit.
At his best, that aggressive play can knock out anyone on tour, but as an undersized player with a history of minor injury, Nishikori’s perennial challenge is staying physically sound enough to compete. Facing this level of strain this early on in the two-week tournament doesn’t necessarily bode well, but we’ll have to see how he recovers against Jeremy Chardy in the next round.