Nadal leads their head-to-head record by a discouraging 12 wins and 0 losses. Indeed in all of their meetings Stan has yet to win a single set off Nadal! However things are not quite as one-sided as they appear on paper, and Wawrinka does indeed have a shot. At their most recent meeting, in the ATP World Finals last year Wawrinka pushed Nadal to two tie-breakers, losing 6-7 (5), 6-7 (6). Given both breakers were close he was literally within a couple of points of victory. In fact three of the last four sets played between the two have ended in tie-breakers, indicating that Wawrinka is on the brink of breaking through.
Nadal can largely pull out his Federer Game Plan and execute it with minor alterations. Wawrinka’s backhand is sturdier than Federer’s to be sure, however even he cannot hit above-the-shoulder one-handers indefinitely without fatiguing and/or making errors. And so Stanislas is faced with the problem – how to avoid the cross-court backhand exchange with Nadal’s forehand. Nadal will primarily serve to the Wawrinka backhand, and look to hit forehands off the first or second ball. Once he gets a forehand, he will pound away into the backhand corner, looking for chances to rip and inside-out forehand or step up and take his backhand cross-court aggressively.
How Can Wawrinka Win?
The key thing that Wawrinka must do (and that Federer failed to in large part) is to play on his terms. He must control the pattern of play as much as possible, and that means first-strike tennis. Wawrinka has to serve well – penetrating first serves, and aggressive second serves. Wawrinka would be better off being more aggressive on his second serve – the increased chance of a double fault is more than offset by the chance to be in control of the rally from the beginning.
Wawrinka must step up and take Nadal’s forehand on the rise. If he can drive Nadal deep into his own forehand corner, he’ll do significantly less running and hopefully be able to control his height at contact on the backhand well. Second he must be ready, willing and able to pound his own forehand into the Nadal backhand. While Wawrinka generally hits a heavy, less pacy ball than Federer that can work to his advantage here. With heavy spin he can push Nadal back in the court, and control the space. Stan should only venture forward under the best of circumstances – Nadal loves a target at net and Wawrinka’s net play simply isn’t as good as Federer’s.
The Bottom Line
We’re stuck talking about all the things Wawrinka must do in order to have a chance at victory, and that’s a bad sign for the Swiss. He’s had a great tournament but barring a career-defining performance his run stops here. While we expect Wawrinka’s improved play and confidence to allow him to win a set, the matchup simply isn’t in his favor. Nadal to win in four.