Fans won’t have to wait long for the biggest first-round blockbuster in the Roland Garros draw, as former World No. 1 Andy Murray and 16th seed Stan Wawrinka highlight Sunday’s action in a battle of three-time Grand Slam champions.
Three years ago, Wawrinka needed four hours and 34 minutes to battle past Murray in an epic semi-final. Sunday evening on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Murray will try to get his revenge in his first clay-court match since that memorable encounter.
“Been a long journey to get back on Court Philippe-Chatrier,” Murray wrote before the draw in an Instagram post. “Three-and-a-half years since I played @stanwawrinka85 in a brutal five-set semi-final, which turned out to be the end of my hip.”
In 2017, both Murray and Wawrinka were flying high, challenging for the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Now they are working back towards their top form after both underwent multiple surgeries (Murray’s right hip, Wawrinka’s left knee).
Wawrinka showed great form in Paris last year, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the quarter-finals, in which he fell short against Roger Federer in four tight sets. Murray will try to quickly adjust to moving on clay, a surface on which he owns two ATP Masters 1000 titles. Wawrinka has won four of their five ATP Head2Head meetings on clay, but Murray leads their overall series 12-8 and triumphed against the Swiss in last year’s Antwerp final.
The Italian won their only previous clash 7-6(7), 7-5 earlier this year in Rotterdam, but that match was played on an indoor hard court, which is completely different conditions than the outdoor Parisian red clay in September. Sinner has easy power from the baseline, but his Belgian opponent does well to use his footwork to take control of rallies and strategically counterpunch.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) September 24, 2020
Sixth seed Alexander Zverev will play his first match since the US Open final against Austrian Dennis Novak. The German has reached back-to-back quarter-finals at this event, but he will have to be sharp in his first clay-court tournament of the year. Novak, Dominic Thiem’s close friend, is making his Roland Garros main draw debut. He will happily play aggressively in rallies if given the opportunity.
Two in-form players on clay will also meet on Court Simonne-Mathieu: 12th seed Diego Schwartzman and Kitzbuhel champion Miomir Kecmanovic. They have not previously met, but they will certainly engage in fun baseline rallies. Schwartzman was at his aggressive best to beat Rafael Nadal at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia en route to his first Masters 1000 final. But if he is not at his very best, Kecmanovic will be ready to take advantage.
Another baseline duel to watch for will be 32nd seed Daniel Evans against two-time Barcelona champion Kei Nishikori. The Japanese star leads the pair’s rivalry 2-1, but he is still recovering from right elbow surgery, which he had last October.
It will be an interesting battle of patience on Court 14, as Evans will use his variety of shots — especially his backhand slice — to try to goad the former World No. 4 into making poor shot selections. Nishikori will try to balance waiting for the right moment to strike and attacking early enough to keep the Brit from going on offence.
#NextGenATP Aussie Alex de Minaur, the 25th seed, will try to get off to a good start against 2018 semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato, who came through qualifying this year. De Minaur has triumphed in three of their four matches, but the clash Cecchinato won was their only meeting on clay (2019 Rome).
Big-serving John Isner begins his run against home favourite Elliot Benchetrit. The 21st seed has not lost in the first round in Paris since pushing Nadal to five sets in his 2011 opener. Dominik Koepfer, a Rome quarter-finalist who was the only player to win a set against Djokovic at the Foro Italico, plays Frenchman Antoine Hoang.