The Japan Open final features top seed Stan Wawrinka searching for his fourth ATP title of the season. He is opposed by Benoit Paire who shocked the defending champion Kei Nishikori in the semifinals.
(1) Stan Wawrinka vs. Benoit Paire
The top seed continued to plod through the draw with minimal issues on Saturday. Stan Wawrinka beat Gilles Muller for the third time this season in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (5). The Swiss wobbled slightly in the second set after a blistering opener where he won 83 percent of his service points. In the second, Wawrinka squandered break leads twice as the set rolled to a tie break. Wawrinka was able to steady himself and took the last point of the tie break on a Muller error to secure the win.
Paire looked to be in big trouble to second seed Kei Nishikori in the semifinals after dropping the opening set 6-1. In the second set, the Frenchman started hitting the zone as his level of play ramped up. He would take the second set 6-4 after saving five break points in the seventh game. He would dig in again and break Nishikori early in the third as he rolled out to a 6-2 finish to the the shock of the crowd and Nishikori. The Japanese star said he had no answers for the Frenchman as the match progressed, “One minute he was missing, the next he wasn’t. I started well but when he lifted his game, I didn’t seem to be able to cope.”
Wawrinka and Paire are good friends off the court who have teamed up in doubles play in the past. On Sunday, they will oppose each other for the sixth time. The previous five encounters ahve gone in favor of the top seeded Swiss. Wawrinka won the most recent meeting in Marseille in February 6-2, 6-3. It was Wawrinka’s second win over Paire since last August when he outlasted him in three sets at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The Rogers Cup was the only place the Frenchman had been able to beat the Swiss with that coming in Montreal in 2013.
This match-up features two players who have beautiful back hands that they are not afraid to use. Wawrinka utilizes the one hander, while Paire will go with the double hander. That means you’ll see both players unafraid to hit both the forehand and backhand in rallies. Both Wawrinka and Paire can absolutely paint the lines when they are locked in, but the question always is how long will they stay locked in? For Paire, it is usually a larger question as inconsistency has plagued him throughout his career.
That consistency is what has separated Wawrinka from Paire. The Swiss had channeled consistency at a better rate. His first serve is just a shade better than Paire as he wins 77 percent of the points to 72 perent for Paire. Wawrinka has saved 67 percent of his break points this season. Paire has saved 62 percent. There is just that slight differential overall that favors Wawrinka. Experience goes to the Swiss as well with Paire playing in just his fourth career ATP final. He won his first one this summer in Bastad on clay. Wawrinka has ten career singles titles and has played in 19 finals.
As seen on Saturday, Paire can get in the zone just like Wawrinka has done in the past and can be difficult, if not impossible to beat. Wawrinka has not been forced to raise his level much this week in Tokyo, so it will be interesting if Paire can push him early to see how Wawrinka responds. In the end, for this columnist it would take a second straight monster performance from Paire to claim the title on Sunday. He is capable, but look for Wawrinka to survive a hard test from his friend and win a very close match.
Wawrinka wins in three sets.