Two of the ATP Tour’s most recognizable faces returned to the match court on Tuesday after extended breaks due to injury.
Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem both suffered losses at the AnyTech365 Andalucia Open, but for Wawrinka simply competing again represented a victory at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Marbella, Spain.
“I physically think it was good, it was really positive,” said the Swiss after his 6-2, 6-4 first-round loss to World No. 131 Elias Ymer at the outdoor clay event. “I was super happy to be back playing a tournament, to get the emotion, to get the stress of a match again.”
Wawrinka had not played since the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha in March 2021 due to a foot injury. After an extensive rehabilitation process, the 37-year-old was happy to finally make the move to the match court.
“I was focused on trying to do my best with the level I have right now, and I knew it would be difficult, but in general I think it’s only a positive week for me,” he said. “I’ve been practicing well and I’m going to keep practicing and keep building for the next few weeks.”
Wawrinka’s next tournament will be the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters in mid-April, where he lifted the trophy in 2014, as he gears up for a Grand Slam comeback at Roland Garros. Despite having this schedule in place, the Swiss is putting no pressure on himself in terms of what he can achieve in his first months back on Tour.
“There is a short-term goal, and a long-term goal,” he said. “It’s tough to say about timing. There is a lot of time until the French Open, so for sure I will be a completely different player, physically and tennis-wise.
“I’m not worried at all. I need to focus on the moment, to focus on what I’m doing today to get to the level I want to be [at].”
For 2020 US Open champion Thiem he has been nine months out with an injury to his right wrist. The Austrian last played on the grass at the Mallorca Championships in June and on Tuesday was beaten 6-3, 6-4 by World No. 228 Pedro Cachin.
The 28-year-old acknowledged it had been a difficult road back when he announced his participation at the Marbella event via an Instagram post on 25 March. “It’s been a very, very tough period for me and to go back to competition is what I have been waiting for so long and as you know I had a lot of setbacks,” wrote Thiem. “I know this will be a slow process of getting back to the top level, but I am ready to work hard and start humble.”
Thiem’s return coincides with the start of the clay-court season, giving him the opportunity to ease back in on a surface he has always enjoyed. The Austrian has won 10 of his 17 ATP Tour titles on the red dirt and he reached the championship match at Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019.
Wawrinka and Thiem’s appearance in Marbella marks the first time that two former Top 3 players have competed at the same Challenger Tour event. Former Top 50 stars Philipp Kohlschreiber, Pablo Andujar and Jiri Vesely have all advanced to the second round in Spain, as has 2020 and 2021 finalist Jaume Munar.