Wawrinka and Serena reach next round of Indian Wells

serena

Serena Williams in action against Victoria Azarenka (unseen) during their second round match on Friday. Agence France-Presse

Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka made a triumphant return to Indian Wells on Friday, rallying for 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-3 victory over British qualifier Daniel Evans to reach the second round.

It was a rematch of Wawrinka’s four-hour, five-set victory over Evans in the third round of the 2016 US Open -- where the Swiss would go on to claim his third Grand Slam crown.

Wawrinka, on the rise after 18 months battling injury and recovering from double knee surgery, was runner-up in the California desert in 2017, but missed the combined ATP Masters and WTA event last year.

While top seeds led by world number one Novak Djokovic enjoyed first-round byes, 40th-ranked Wawrinka gutted out a two-hour, eight-minute clash with 100th ranked Evans.

Wawrinka saved all six break points he faced in the deciding set, battling back from 0-40 down in the fifth game and pushing to a 5-3 lead.

He held at love to line up a second-round meeting with 29th-seeded Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.

He hasn’t lifted a trophy since Geneva in May of 2017, but says his Rotterdam run put his comeback in a new phase.

“It helped me a lot to put away a little bit of pressure of knowing that you play well but (are) not winning too many matches,” Wawrinka said.

Fifth-seeded South African Kevin Anderson’s challenge ended before it began as he withdrew from the tournament with a right elbow injury that has nagged him since a second-round exit at the Australian Open.

In other first-round matches, German Peter Gojowczyk defeated Italian Andreas Seppi 7-5, 6-4 to set up a second round meeting with fourth-seeded Roger Federer, who is coming off a remarkable 100th career title in Dubai.

Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin beat Spain’s Jaume Munar 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 to advance to a meeting with eighth-seeded American John Isner and Aussie qualifier Alex Bolt also advanced with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Ernests Gulbis.

Popyrin, 19 and ranked 131 in the world, notched his first win in a Masters 1000 event and will now try to take out his second top 10 opponent this year after beating Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open.

American Jared Donaldson defeated Japan’s Tatsuma Ito 6-3, 7-5 to set a second-round showdown with second-seeded Rafael Nadal. France’s Adrian Mannarino will take on sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori after beating American Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1.

Electrifying clash: Serena Williams out-gunned Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-3 in an electrifying clash of former world number ones on Friday to reach the third round at Indian Wells.

The two raised the temperature on a cold, windy night in the California desert, trading shots from every corner of the court before Williams wrapped things up after two hours and 17 minutes.

She finished it off in style, with a pair of unreturnable serves.

The display worthy of a final came in the second round thanks to Azarenka’s current ranking of 48th in the world -- and the bad luck of the draw. The first set alone lasted one hour and 13 minutes.

Williams, unable to serve it out at 5-3, was under pressure again at 5-5 but Azarenka was unable to convert five break points. Williams produced three service winners to take a 6-5 lead and broke Azarenka to pocket the set.

Agence France-Presse