Sports, Tennis

Djokovic, Wawrinka renew age-old rivalry for first time on grass

By Reuters
Published : 07 Jul 2023 08:42 PM
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Novak Djokovic will play Stan Wawrinka for the 27th time in a storied rivalry when they clash on Friday but surprisingly they have never played each other on grass, let alone at Wimbledon.

The two faced off for the first time in the 2006 Croatia Open final when Djokovic retired with breathing issues and, though the Serbian has dominated in the years since with a 20-6 record, some old wounds have still not healed.

"He took away two Grand Slams from me. That's the role he played (in my career), beating me in two Grand Slam finals," a smiling Djokovic said ahead of their third round encounter on Centre Court.

Wawrinka reached the peak of his career between 2014-2016, a period when he seemed like the only man capable of breaking the hegemony of the 'Big Four' - Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Djokovic.

Wawrinka sensationally won three Grand Slam titles, beating Djokovic at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows.

A series of injuries have reduced the 38-year-old Swiss great to a player who no longer thrives on gruelling marathon encounters but he still commands respect in the eyes of Djokovic, who praised his resilience.

"After several knee surgeries, he keeps going strong and trying to create some more history for himself and tennis," Djokovic said.

"We cannot forget that he's a three-time Grand Slam champion, Davis Cup winner and also (won) Olympic gold (in doubles). He had a fantastic career."

Wawrinka is a bit more realistic, however, saying those special victories are nothing more than "great memories".

"It was a part of my career that I was playing such a good level that I knew when I was entering on court against Novak in a Grand Slam I was able to beat him," Wawrinka said.

"Hopefully I can make a competitive match but if you look at recent results, I don't really stand a chance."

With Wimbledon still clearing the backlog of matches postponed due to rain, world number one Carlos Alcaraz will be playing his second round match on Friday when he takes on Frenchman Alexandre Muller.

Women's top seed and French Open champion Iga Swiatek is on a quest for a first title on grass and she will take to Centre Court after Alcaraz when she faces Croatian Petra Martic.

"After Roland Garros, I really felt like I can kind of keep it cool and just stay open-minded for the grass," the Pole said.

"I kind of focused a little bit more on footwork ... because I always feel like this is my strength. It's a little bit easier for me this year to adjust my game to grass."