Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka is one of the most inconsistent top players on tour. However, when Grand Slam tournaments roll around, the Swiss number one is one of the most unpredictable players in the field. The fourth seed defeated Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals and final respectively to win his first Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne, three years ago.
Wawrinka's second-round opponent is world number 30, Steve Johnson. This is a harsh draw for both players, as Johnson missed out on the vital 32nd seeding by a mere five points. The American number three has improved immensely over the past 12 months, and Johnson reached the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career at Wimbledon last year, losing to Wawrinka's compatriot, Roger Federer in the fourth round.
How they got here
The 2014 Australian Open champion had a battle on his hands with Martin Klizan in the first round. Wawrinka was lacklustre throughout this match but he recovered from a set down, and he was a break down in the final set to defeat the Slovak in five gruelling sets, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
Johnson was paired up with Argentina's Federico Delbonis in the first round in Melbourne. The Argentine has been on a high since winning the Davis Cup, last November. The unseeded American dispatched Delbonis in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the second round in Melbourne for the third consecutive year. Also for the first time in 2016, Johnson managed to defeat two top ten players. Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Queen's and at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, respectively.
Wawrinka and Johnson have met on one occasion, and it was on the Parisian clay courts in the third round of the French Open in 2015. The Swiss number one had too much for Johnson, dispatching the American in the comprehensive fashion, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, en route to winning his second Grand Slam singles title.
Last year's US Open champion was on the brink of elimination at Flushing Meadows last year against Britain's Dan Evans. The three-time Grand Slam champion went on to win the US Open, and being in a similar situation in Melbourne, will make the fourth seed, extremely harder to beat. Should, Wawrinka get through Johnson, a fourth-round meeting with Australia's Nick Kyrgios could be on the horizon, and should he reach the quarterfinals, 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic or 12th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be lying in wait. World number one Andy Murray is his projected opponent in the semifinals and a potential final showdown with six-time champion Novak Djokovic could be on the cards.
Johnson defeated compatriot John Isner en route to his run in the semifinals of the ASB Classic in Auckland, where he lost to eventual champion and fellow-American Jack Sock. The American comes into this clash with Wawrinka in decent form, and the 27-year-old has shown his consistency by finishing inside the top 40 in the last three years, and the American also claimed the bronze doubles medal with Jack Sock.
Wawrinka's serve and blistering forehands and backhands will need to be firing on all cylinders. The third seed has the ability to breeze past opponents but can lose to players he should be beating. Johnson is no pushover either as he pushed Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics, gaining a break in the final set but was unable to sustain his level. The world number 30 will need to hold serve in this match, as that will give him a chance to beat the three-time Grand Slam champion, and Johnson's movement around the court for a tall player is incredible.
This will be the third match scheduled in the Margaret Court Arena on Day Three of the Australian Open, following the conclusion of the second round women's match between eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jaimee Fourlis. The winner of this match will face 29th seed Viktor Troicki or Paolo Lorenzi in the third round on Friday.
Prediction: Wawrinka in four sets