Stan Wawrinka rolled back the years as the 38-year-old Swiss proved the old adage that class is permanent and form temporary by knocking out seeded Argentine Tomas Etcheverry on Thursday to reach the third round at Wimbledon.
His career may be in its twilight but Wawrinka proved a notch above a man 15 years his junior to claim a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory on a sunny Court Three.
It was the first time Wawrinka has reached third round of a Grand Slam for three years and his reward is a box-office duel with defending champion Novak Djokovic, the man he famously made cry after beating him in the 2015 French Open final.
The 88th-ranked Wawrinka, who has extended his career despite issues with his knees, had lost in the first or second round of his last six Grand Slam tournaments.
“It’s a long time that I didn’t win too much at Grand Slams,” Wawrinka, who once turned the so-called big four into a big five by winning the 2014 Australian Open, the French Open a year later and the 2016 US Open, said on court after an impressive display against the 29th seed.
“I’ve been working hard to get back to a better level and I’m happy with the way I’m coming up.”
Wimbledon has never been Wawrinka’s happiest hunting ground with only two quarterfinals runs and he finds himself in the third round for the first time since 2015.
Djokovic, bidding for a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title and a joint-record eighth in total, leads their career head-to-head 20-6, but they have never met on grass.
“I’ll enjoy it if I don’t get killed,” Wawrinka said of his impending showdown with the Serb, who has lost only twice at Wimbledon since 2013 - one of which was due to an injury withdrawal.
“I’m happy to have the chance to play against him on grass at least one time. It’s a big challenge but hopefully I can come to a higher level and be competitive.
“I’ll push to the maximum and see what happens.”
For Wawrinka to stand any chance of stopping Djokovic’s march to a 24th Grand Slam title he will need all the tools in his considerable toolbox, especially his signature backhand.
That stroke, the subject of endless internet montages, softened up Djokovic in the 2015 Roland Garros showdown and in the 2016 U.S. Open final when he produced three sets of almost unplayable brilliance.
It was also in fine fettle on Thursday, as was his hammer-like forehand, although it was experience that really paid off as he moved Etcheverry around the court.
Only in the second set did Wawrinka briefly wobble, but after breaking serve at 3-3 in the third he seized the match by the scruff of the neck to win with something to spare.
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