Wawrinka out-lasts Evans to reach Indian Wells second round


Indian Wells (United States) (AFP)

Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka made a triumphant return to Indian Wells on Friday, rallying for 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-3 victory over British qualifier Daniel Evans to reach the second round.

It was a rematch of Wawrinka's four-hour, five-set victory over Evans in the third round of the 2016 US Open -- where the Swiss would go on to claim his third Grand Slam crown.

"He's always a tough player to play, for sure," Wawrinka said. "He's mixing a lot, especially on conditions like today when it's windy. With his slice, he feels the ball really well. He's mixing his game, serve and volley, sometimes coming, sometimes not, passing well.

"So I'm happy to get through a match like today," he added.

Wawrinka, on the rise after 18 months battling injury and recovering from double knee surgery, was runner-up in the California desert in 2017, but missed the combined ATP Masters and WTA event last year.

While top seeds led by world number one Novak Djokovic enjoyed first-round byes, 40th-ranked Wawrinka gutted out a two-hour, eight-minute clash with 100th ranked Evans.

Wawrinka saved all six break points he faced in the deciding set as he lined up a second-round meeting with 29th-seeded Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.

"I think for me this year it's for sure special because I'm happy to be back," said Wawrinka, whose run to the final in Rotterdam last month was his first final since Roland Garros in June of 2017.

He hasn't lifted a trophy since Geneva in May of 2017, but says his Rotterdam run put his comeback in a new phase.

"It helped me a lot to put away a little bit of pressure of knowing that you play well but (are) not winning too many matches," Wawrinka said.

But he noted that every tournament is a fresh start, so he was pleased to come through against Evans in "a tough match against a tough player in tough conditions".

"It was important to win that one, not play necessarily your best tennis -- because of the first (round), because of the conditions -- but to fight really well mentally to stay there."

In other first-round matches, German Peter Gojowczyk defeated Italian Andreas Seppi 7-5, 6-4 to set up a second round meeting with fourth-seeded Roger Federer, who is coming off a remarkable 100th career title in Dubai.

Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin beat Spain's Jaume Munar 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 to advance to a meeting with eighth-seeded American John Isner.

Popyrin, 19 and ranked 131 in the world, notched his first win in a Masters 1000 event and will now try to take out his second top 10 opponent this year after beating Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open.