French Open first round preview: Stan Wawrinka vs Andy Murray
Murray and Wawrinka will meet at Roland Garros for the third time (Image: Tim Clayton)

16th seed and former French Open champion Stan Wawrinka will take on former world number one and fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray in an intriguing opening round contest at Roland Garros.

It has been five years since Wawrinka won the title in Paris and though he has not quite been able to recapture his best form since injury issues at the end of 2017, clay has still proven a reliable surface for the Swiss, reaching the last eight at Roland Garros last season.

Murray was the runner-up at the tournament four years ago though has not played at the tournament since 2017 due to lingering injury issues, and this will be his first clay court tournament since then. The Brit has received a wildcard into the tournament.

Wawrinka was the champion in Paris five years ago (Image: Christophe Saidi)
Wawrinka was the champion in Paris five years ago (Image: Christophe Saidi)

This match will be the fourth and final match on Court Philippe Chatrier tomorrow, with the winner playing Dominik Koepfer or Antoine Hoang in the second round on Wednesday.

Head to Head

This will be a 21st meeting between the two, with Murray currently leading the head-to-head 12-8. The former world number one won when the two played on the grass in Eastbourne and then on indoor hard in the final of the Antwerp Open last season.

However, Wawrinka has won four of their five meetings on clay. This includes their semifinal contest at Roland Garros three years ago where the Swiss rallied from two sets to one down to prevail in a class contest on Chatrier, avenging his defeat to Murray at the same stage 12 months before.

This will be the seventh time they’ve played at a Grand Slam tournament and their previous meetings have been split equally with three wins apiece.

Murray beat Wawrinka in the Antwerp Open final in 2019 (Image: John Thys)
Murray beat Wawrinka in the Antwerp Open final in 2019 (Image: John Thys)

Analysis

The big question in regards to Murray is how he will cope physically with playing on clay after such a long period away from the surface. Though he is undoubtedly an incredible competitor it has been hard for the former Wimbledon and US Open champion to maintain his physicality since his injury troubles emerged, and that could be highlighted on what is perhaps the most physically demanding surface. The Brit did not play a warm-up tournament coming in, which may hinder his chances.

There are also some doubts about Wawrinka’s form after he fell in his opening match in Rome to Lorenzo Musetti. That has been his only tour level match since the restart, having chosen to skip the Western and Southern Open and US Open, and the Swiss would certainly have been looking for a much better performance. The time given to him on the ball makes clay a good surface for the former world number three and he will certainly get time to strike the ball with ease, particularly on his backhand size, though he must limit his number of errors against someone who can defend as well as Murray.

Murray will prove a tough test for anyone despite recent injuries (Image: Matthew Stockman)
Murray will prove a tough test for anyone despite recent injuries (Image: Matthew Stockman)

Conditions may be tricky for Wawrinka and Murray. The revised September start date this season means that the conditions will be a lot colder than usual and that the courts may not be able to pick up as much speed as they usually do. A change in ball this year is another challenge that both will have to deal with, with several players commenting that the new Wilson balls are a lot heavier than the Babolat ones used previously. Whoever is able to adapt quickest to these changes may gain an advantage.

Assessment

It is impossible to rule Murray out of any contest, even if he is no longer the player he once was. His comeback from two sets down against Yoshihito Nishioka shows that he is still mentally ready for a tough battle and will be incredibly tricky to break down.

Wawrinka does however enter this contest as the favorite and, despite a disappointing result in Rome, should be able to prevail. More recent clay court experience and success may help the Swiss adapt to the unusual conditions more easily and see him over the line.

Prediction: Stan Wawrinka in four sets

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