Stanislas Wawrinka reached the final of the 2014 Monte-Carlo Masters thanks to an often brilliant display of tennis on Saturday to oust David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6.
Wawrinka came out flying. Perhaps trying to take advantage of the fact Ferrer was forced into an extended grind with Rafael Nadal on Friday, the Swiss star was firing on all cylinders from the opening serve, consistently forcing the Spaniard well behind the baseline.
The plan paid off as he secured a quick break to take an immediate 2-0 lead in the first set. Ferrer, who was at his best to upset Nadal in the quarterfinals, was no match for the power Wawrinka was putting on display nearly every point.
Though Wawrinka entered the match as the higher seed—No. 3 to Ferrer's No. 6—the Associated Press (via USA Today) passed along comments after his win over Milos Raonic in which he talked about having an underdog mentality:
"I know I am supposed to be among the favorites, but every time I play a match I am in the state of mind of a challenger who is trying to win an additional match."
Wawrinka finally had a breakthrough on the Grand Slam stage back in January when he won the season's first major, the Australian Open. After representing Switzerland in the Davis Cup shortly after that triumph, he didn't play a tournament for a month.
He hadn't advanced past the round of 16 in his two events since returning to action, but he looked far more like the player who triumphed in Australia in the early going against Ferrer. He played aggressive tennis despite the slower clay surface, and it worked to perfection.
Wawrinka earned another break to race out to a 4-0 lead and made it 5-0 before Ferrer was finally able to hold his serve to avoid the first-set bagel. The third-ranked player in the world closed out the set in the next game.
Tumaini Carayol of Tennis View Magazine noted how well the Swiss veteran was at using a combination of power and angles to force Ferrer off the court before striking winners:
Some incredible tennis from Wawrinka already. Keeps on dragging Ferrer back with heavy, high backhands, then playing short crosscourt angles— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) April 19, 2014
BA Tennis World also praised Wawrinka's tremendous shot-making ability off the backhand wing:
Wawrinka's backhand!! There's nothing more to say. We're watching the Wawrinka who won the Australian Open. Untouchable.— BATennisWorld (@BATennisWorld) April 19, 2014
TennisTV provided the shot chart to illustrate how often Ferrer was pushed deep in the court:
Wawrinka taking the ball earlier than Ferrer, and it certainly paid off in the first set pic.twitter.com/TpLw7y3rja— TennisTV (@TennisTV) April 19, 2014
If there's one thing tennis fans have learned about the 32-year-old Spanish player over the years, it's that he's a scrapper who rarely goes down without a fight.
Sure enough, he elevated his level of play in the second set. He started playing closer to the baseline and was able to hit more winners, which was his only hope of getting back into the match with Wawrinka striking the ball so well.
How will Wawrinka fare in the final?
Ferrer also did a much better job protecting his serve. The Australian Open champion only had one break point in the set, which he failed to convert, after securing a pair of breaks on five opportunities in the opening set.
Alas, Ferrer wasn't able to break serve either, sending the set to a tiebreak.
From there, Wawrinka immediately secured a mini-break to go up 1-0 and never looked back. He raced out to a 4-0 edge and closed the door before Ferrer was able to mount a comeback, winning the tiebreaker by a 7-3 score.
TennisTV noted the match took a shade under 90 minutes:
After 88 minutes and having defeated Nadal the day before, Ferrer has to give best to Wawrinka, 6-1, 7-6(3). pic.twitter.com/bvNfkDFTfM— TennisTV (@TennisTV) April 19, 2014
Adeline Auger of Tennis Trotteur passed along remarks from the winner:
#Wawrinka: "Both Djokovic and Federer are tough to play against. But I'll have the whole afternoon to rest and be ready for the final".— Adeline Auger (@adel1609) April 19, 2014
Looking ahead to the final on Sunday, Wawrinka will play the winner of the second semifinal, which features countryman Roger Federer and second-seeded Novak Djokovic. He holds a 1-13 career record against Federer and an only slightly better 3-15 mark against Djokovic.
The tournament is a positive sign for Wawrinka regardless of how the championship match turns out, though. His level of play had dropped noticeably following his triumph in the Australian Open. He's finally been able to showcase that form again in Monte Carlo.
He'll probably be an underdog in the final no matter who emerges from the other semifinal, but he seems to enjoy that position. And if he plays like he did in the first set against Ferrer, he can beat anybody.