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Wawrinka Returns In Melbourne

In his first match for more than six months, Stan Wawrinka, at times, looked his old self, smacking backhand winners and gaining free points behind his serve.

But at no point did Wawrinka resemble his three-time Grand Slam champion self more than at the moment when he needed to play his best. In the fourth-set tie-break, the ninth seed sped past Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis, winning seven of nine points to ensure a successful return to Melbourne 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(2).

Former champion Stan Wawrinka battles through to the second round of the 2018 Australian Open. Getty Images photo.
“It's great to be back,” said Wawrinka. “It's great to win, for sure. It was a tough one in all aspects of the game but, in general, I'm really happy to get through a match like that. To fight the way I did today. To win the match like this.”

Wawrinka, the 2014 Australian Open champion, improved to 13-0 in first-round matches in Melbourne. The 32-year-old, however, had to fight against Berankis, who reached the title match of the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow last October.

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The 27-year-old Berankis hit 59 winners – compared to 36 from Wawrinka – and won more points than Wawrinka (127 to 123). But the 32-year-old Swiss won just as many of break points as Berankis – four each – and jumped out to a 4/1 lead in the fourth-set tie-break.

Wawrinka was playing his first match since the first round of 2017 Wimbledon, when he lost to Russian Daniil Medvedev. Wawrinka was in obvious pain during the match, icing his left knee during changeovers. The right-hander opted for surgery and didn't play a match for the remainder of the 2017 season.

He played on Tuesday, though, without any bulky brace or even a wrap on the left knee, and Wawrinka moved around the court like a healed man as well, even serving and volleying during the opener. After the match, Wawrinka admitted he did play with some pain but had a positive outlook moving forwards.

“In general, it's going the right direction. That's the best news. That I can play a match with the stress… so that is great,” said Wawrinka.

The Swiss will next meet American Tennys Sandgren, who won 81 per cent of his first-serve points to beat French veteran Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-2.

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