Bublik Spoils Wawrinka’s Tour Return At Monte-Carlo Masters

Alexander Bublik (photo: ATP Tour video)

MONTE-CARLO/WASHINGTON, April 11, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka’s return to the ATP Tour at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, competing in his first tour-level match in 13 months, was spoiled by Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan – and Bublik admits hating to play on red clay.

The 36th-ranked Bublik recovered a shaky opening set and took advantage of the 236th-ranked wild card Wawrinka’s lack of match play to win, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, in two hours and seven minutes, as the European spring clay season got under way Monday in the Principality of Monaco. Bublik won eight of the final 10 games of the first-round match.

It was the 24-year-old Bublik’s first career win at Monte-Carlo, and it came on a surface that he’s not fond of, against the 2014 Monte-Carlo champion from Switzerland.

“The only thing I can say is I wish Stan a speedy recovery,” Bublik quipped during his on-court interview following his first meeting against Wawrinka. “I mean, if he were in shape, I wouldn’t be standing here. That’s true. I wish the clay [season] would end soon and we were going on the grass. … I hate this surface. Clay is not for me.”

Wawrinka, 37, delighted the Court Rainier III crowd at times with his combination of crushing backhands and the depth and spin of his trademark one-fisted backhand, which produced six of his 28 winners. However, as the match extended, Bublik recovered and dominated with his serve – 14 aces and 46 overall winners. Toss in Bublik’s unpredictable shotmaking skills, which contributed toward Wawrinka committing 36 unforced errors, and in the end Bublik won to advance against No. 13 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, who defeated 66th-ranked qualifier Sebastian Baez of Argentina, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

After enduring two left foot surgeries, which sidelined him for more than a year, Wawrinka said before the start of the tournament that his recovery had been difficult. But he’s glad to be back on the court for his first Tour match since Doha in 2021.

“[It is] not a miracle,” Wawrinka admitted. “I wouldn’t say that, but it was very long and difficult, more than a year. I thought I would be [out] only a few weeks. It lasted a whole year with many moments of doubts. It was extremely long and tough. I really needed to have the willpower to come back, to have the strength to go through rehab and everything, and I’m very happy to be here now.”

Afterward, during his post-match press conference, Wawrinka said: “I think the body’s getting much better. I’m still far away from where I want to be, but I think I’m [going in] the right direction. I think today was a positive match. It was a tough loss, of course, but I’m happy with the way I was playing today.

“I was playing better, feeling better on the court of course physically. I spent a lot of mental energy to focus, to stay there as it was tough at the end. But I’m happy with what I have done today.”

Around the Monte-Carlo Masters

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France bowed to No. 22 Marin Cilic of Croatia, 6-2, 6-2, in his final appearance at Monte-Carlo. The personable Frenchman from Le Mans was outpointed 56-35 during the 68-minute match on Court Rainier III Monday evening. Cilic awaits the winner of Tuesday’s match between No. 10 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States and 424th-ranked wild card Lucas Catarina of Monaco.

• No. 9 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy reached the second round but needed to go the distance – two hours and 28 minutes on Court Rainier III – to beat No. 198 Borna Coric of Croatia, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. Next, Sinner will play either 81st-ranked qualifier Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland or 72nd-ranked lucky loser Oscar Otte of Germany.

“It was a tough match because first time on clay after quite a while, it’s never easy,” Sinner said. “So, I’m very happy about my performance, even if it was not my best. I think at the end of the match I raised my level, which for me was important.”

Other Monday highlights:

• No. 11 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland hit 10 aces and advanced over 92nd-ranked qualifier Hugo Dellien of Bolivia, 7-5, 6-4. Next, he will play either No. 45 Pedro Martinez of Spain or No. 48 Ugo Humbert of France.

• No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina fought off No. 24 Karen Khachanov of Russia, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3, to improve to 10-3 on clay this season. Next, he’ll play Hungary’s 57th-ranked Marton Fucsovics, who won his opening match over No. 40 Lloyd Harris of South Africa on Sunday.

• Australia’s 25th-ranked Alex de Minaur defeated 123rd-ranked qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, in his second Monte-Carlo appearance following a first-round loss in 2021. Next, he will face No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

• No. 42 Sebastian Korda, one of just three Americans in the draw – the others are No. 10 seed Taylor Fritz and lucky loser Maxime Cressy – made his debut at Monte-Carlo a successful one and beat No. 41 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 7-5, 6-4, to win his first clay-court match of the season. Next, Korda will face 11th-ranked Miami Open champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain in a rematch of their Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals 2021 championship match, which the young Spaniard won.

• No. 32 Fabio Fognini of Italy, the 2019 Monte-Carlo champion, advanced with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win over No. 59 Arthur Rinderknech of France that stretched over two-and-a-half hours. Next, he will face reigning champion and No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

Monday’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters results

Tuesday’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters order of play

By the numbers

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic seeks his third Monte-Carlo title this week. He’s played just three matches during the first three months of the 2022 season (with a 2-1 win-loss record). The Serbian’s fourth match will come on Tuesday afternoon against No. 45 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain. Djokovic has extended his own record by beginning his 365th week atop the ATP Rankings. His 366th will come the week of April 18.

“Quotable …”

“The fans love me because I won in 2019! No, I am joking! I am happy. It was a difficult first match but I am pleased to et through and now have a great match to come. It is going to be tough against [Tsitsipas]. Hopefully, the people come and watch me in the next round. I really need them.”

Fabio Fognini of Italy, the 2019 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters champion, during his on-court interview after his Monday victory on Court Rainier III over Arthur Rinderknech of France.