LONDON (Reuters) - Stan Wawrinka was barely mentioned in the Wimbledon build-up with all the focus on the men’s ‘big three’ and the young guns hoping to shake things up but the Swiss means business.
Outside of eight-time champion Roger Federer, twice winner Rafael Nadal and defending champion Novak Djokovic, Wawrinka is the only other multiple Grand Slam champion in the draw.
Only one other player, Marin Cilic, has won a Grand Slam so with Wawrinka’s obvious weapons - a beefy serve, sublime backhand and a big match mentality - the Swiss should at least be part of the conversation when it comes to discussing contenders to make a deep run this fortnight.
His record at the All England Club, where the title would complete his career Slam, suggests otherwise, although the 34-year old looked razor sharp as he belted 26 winners past Belgian qualifier Ruben Bemelmans in a 6-3 6-2 6-2 first round cruise.
Admittedly left-hander Bemelmans, ranked 171, was having a decidedly ordinary day with his forehand misfiring completely but it was a powerful statement by Wawrinka nonetheless.
“I think I did a great preparation. I’m happy the way I’ve been practising so far here, I’ve been playing. Really happy the way I’ve been feeling physically,” he told reporters.
“Today was a great match, a great start. Three sets, so it’s good to start like that.”
A year ago Wawrinka arrived at Wimbledon ranked outside the top 200 having had knee surgery after the 2017 Championships.
On that occasion he beat Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round but then lost to qualifier Tomas Fabbiano.
Surprisingly for a player of his class Wawrinka has only reached two quarter-finals at Wimbledon, in 2014 when he lost to Roger Federer and in 2015 when beaten by Richard Gasquet.
It is his worst Grand Slam, with his win over Bemelmans improving his career record here to 20-14, compared to 42-14 at Roland Garros, 40-12 at the U.S. Open and 38-13 in Australia.
Despite that record Wawrinka said he believes he can be a match for anyone on the surface.
“I’ve had some tough years here by losing first or second round. I had two good years by making quarter-finals, but I do believe that this year I’m playing well,” he said.
Wawrinka, who has not gone past the second round at Wimbledon since 2015, faces a sterner challenge next when he takes on giant American Reilly Opelka.
“I’m playing the best I ever played on grass courts. For sure I have a tough next match. But I believe if I enter the court, I can beat anybody.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Alison Williams and Ken Ferris