Wawrinka overcomes stumble to oust Kovalik
Stan Wawrinka secured a somewhat wobbly straight-sets win over Jozef Kovalik to reach the French Open second round on Tuesday.
The Swiss number one began and ended the contest impressively, but seemed to lose concentration in a second set he came within a whisker of losing before ultimately sealing a 6-2 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 victory.
Champion at Roland Garros in 2015, third seed Wawrinka has an out-of-form Andy Murray and inexperienced Alexander Zverev lurking as major potential threats in his side of the draw and, though there were flashes of excellent play, the 32-year-old will likely need much better to go deep in the tournament.
Kovalik, playing in the main draw of a grand slam for just the third time, came out hard from the off, employing a do-or-die style to match his skull-motif outfit. Yet Wawrinka was able to pick the angles well enough and he took the lead in typical fashion, sweeping a glorious backhand across the court and out of reach.
The processional vibe was snapped when Wawrinka went long with a lazy overhead smash and netted from close range to give up a break.
An immediate break back and the tightening of each player's game set up a tie-break, where Kovalik was 6-3 to the good after Wawrinka again lost his bearings.
However, the champion quality shone through as Wawrinka rattled off five straight points - letting his backhand do much of the damage.
Kovalik remained game, but his spirit was clearly shaken when he followed that shootout slip by failing to convert four break points in the first game of the third set.
Wawrinka duly returned to his clinical form from earlier in the contest, smearing a fine forehand beyond Kovalik on his first match point to book a meeting with Alexandr Dolgopolov in the second round.
Wawrinka  bt Kovalik 6-2 7-6 (8-6) 6-3
Wawrinka - 38/33
Kovalik - 23/28
Wawrinka - 2/1
Kovalik - 6/2
BREAK POINTS WON
Wawrinka - 4/11
Kovalik - 1/7
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Wawrinka - 51
Kovalik - 46
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Wawrinka - 70/69
Kovalik - 67/52
Wawrinka - 106
Kovalik - 84