It wasn’t the usual Stan Wawrinka backhand that won him the final of the Chennai Open. They didn’t scream off the racquet, it didn’t kick up with the spin, it didn’t always kiss the lines and they didn’t make his opponent breathless and throw him off the court. Sunday evening saw the gentle, non-violent ones that did the trick against Aljaz Bedene, who did look tired on the big day.
Bedene had come through the qualifiers to reach the final — the first man in 20 years to achieve that feat in this Chennai open— and his strong legs had taken severe pounding all week. But there was also something else that did him in on the big day.
Here is some backgrounder: Bedene had won a series of blistering matches where he matched his rivals for power and outgunned them on endurance. Quick feet, strong forearms, and fierce hits. Opponents have tried to target his backhand, not his greatest strength, but he outlasted them in the rallies and retrieved everything with power and panache. But the excitement of being in the first ATP final had made for a restless, sleepless, Saturday night. On the other hand, Wawrinka had binged on his powerful single-handed backhands to create positions of strengths in all matches. He didn’t do that on the final, though .
In a capsule
The first break point of the match captured everything about the way Wawrinka approached the final which he won 6-3, 6-4. It was the sixth game of the match, Wawrinka was leading 3-2 and up 30-0 on Bedene’s serve, when the first signs of his strategy became clear. The ball was rising to his left and it wasn’t deep enough. He could have scythed through with a furious backhand. Instead, he sliced. Gently.
Without much pace to work with, his rhythm was hit and he was thrown off guard and couldn’t quite time his big shot. The next point saw Wawrinka really scale up the strategy even further. This time there were three back-to-back slices. Itching to get into his shots, Bedene couldn’t quite handle this change in pace and he swatted them back in. Suddenly, Wawrinka changed tack and crashed a backhand down-the- line winner to earn the first break point.
The waiting game
He wasn’t at the top of his fitness, yes, but he wasn’t left panting or out of reach. Waiting didn’t come naturally to Bedene on Sunday night. The crafty change of pace of Wawrinka drew errors in shot execution and they started to find the net or sail long.
Tbe pattern was repeated in the second set. Wawrinka didn’t have to extend himself for the much of the second set. He moved Bedene around, wide and in, tired him out further before coming up with the break in the seventh game. Trying to force a point, and eager to set the pace, at 30-15 on his serve, Bedene went inside-out on the forehand from the middle of the court but it sailed just wide.
The next point saw Wawrinka switching angles on the backhand before he went for a lunging cross. It was called wide but he challenged and the technology confirmed his break point. Though, Bedene brought parity, the pressure had got to him. A double fault and a weak serve was enough for Wawrinka to go up 4-3, and eventually seal up the match without much fuss.