The Swiss faces his biggest test of the week against the power serving lefty. Muller is vying for his first ATP final since 2012. Wawrinka is seeking his fourth final of the season.
(1) Stan Wawrinka vs. Gilles Muller
Wawrinka can often be a tough player to gauge motivation wise outside of Grand Slams where he has really excelled the past two seasons. Often his motivation and focus even in Masters events does not always seem up to snuff with a player ranked in the Top 5. This week in Tokyo, he has been typical of that notion with moments of solid play mixed in with some very average stuff. He started the week with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Radek Stepanek where his powerful first serve carried him through. The Swiss won 81 percent of the points off his first serve. In the second round, he floated in and out of the match with Tatsuma Ito. As a result, it was stretched to three sets 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. On Thursday, he used his serve again to propel him past Austin Krajicek 6-3, 6-4. To this point, it’s been fairly simple in that Wawrinka knows he is the better player and if he serves solid enough, he was likely going to win each of those matches.
For Muller, it’s been a stellar run with straight sets wins over 5th seed Kevin Anderson to start, followed up with a two tie break win over Jeremy Chardy and an upset of third seeded Gilles Simon in the quarterfinals. The lefty may not have had his biggest serve working this week, but he has been marvelous at squashing break chances for his opponents. Through three rounds, he has saved 18 of 19 break points. Only Simon came through with a break of serve against him. Muller’s first serve has been his main weapon, winning around 83 percent of the points this week off if it. His biggest concern moving forward will be the consistency with which he can put that first serve into play. He struggled with just 49 percent of his first serves landing in against Simon. That number will need to improve against Wawrinka.
In their two meetings this season, Wawrinka’s serve has been equal to the task of facing off against one of the bigger hitters on the tour. In their meeting in Rotterdam on an indoor hard court, Wawrinka won 80 percent of his service points with nine aces to boot in a 7-6 (3), 6-3 win. Muller was broken twice on five chances in that match. In Chennai in January, it was a similar story as the Swiss won 6-2, 7-6 (4). Wawrinka won 79 percent of the points on-serve and again was able to break Muller multiple times. This time, the Swiss converted three of six break opportunities. Muller’s serve was not at its best that day with just one ace and the lefty committed four double faults.
The top seed has shown no issues with facing lefties with an 8-2 record against them this season. Big servers don’t seem to worry Stan either as he has shown the ability to play the tight sets and take the tie breaks that are often necessary to win those match-ups. In tie breaks this season, he is 28-10. Muller is good in his own right at 26-13, but has failed miserably in his career against Top 10 players. This season, the lefty is 0-8 against the Top 10 and has just six wins in 30 matches against players ranked that high for his career. It has been seven years since Muller scored a scalp of a Top 10 player with his last Top 10 win coming against Nikolay Davydenko at the 2008 U.S. Open when the Russian was ranked fifth in the world. Needless to say, it would be a monumental win for him to beat Wawrinka on Saturday.
There is not much in the way of strategy to this match-up. Muller must whip his first serve in consistently and with pace to keep Wawrinka from getting easy returns. Based on their two meetings this season, he has been able to get the serve in with some consistency, but it has lacked the pop to really trouble the Swiss. For Wawrinka, it’s a similar formula to success. Get your first serve in to avoid letting the lefty see too many softer second serves. In rally exchanges, there isn’t much that Muller can do that will punish Wawrinka unless his focus is off. Muller wants to hit has many forehands as possible, while Wawrinka can hit winners from either side.
Wawrinka wins in straight sets