When Stan Wawrinka is on form, even the best players struggle to stay with him, as he showed in his whirlwind drubbing of Andy Murray in the first round of the French Open in September. To a lesser degree, Dan Evans was reminded of Wawrinka’s pedigree across town in Bercy on Tuesday, for the fifth time in their rivalry, although the British No 1 did not leave meekly in the last match of his best season. He survived almost as long in two sets on a hard court as Murray did on the clay of Roland Garros in three.
Wawrinka’s 6-3, 7-6 (3) win in the opening match of the second day propelled him into the second round on Rafael Nadal’s side of the draw at the Paris Masters, a tournament neither has won in a combined 20 attempts over 15 years, a poor return for such elite performers.
“He’s always been a tough opponent,” Wawrinka said of Evans. “I saved match point in St Petersburg [last month], saved match point in the  US Open, three sets in Indian Wells [last year], tough sets today. It’s not easy to get through him. But I think today was one of my best matches against him.”
If Wawrinka reaches the quarter-finals, it is likely Andrey Rublev or Alexander Zverev will be waiting for the 35-year-old 12th seed and, beyond that, Nadal.
Evans, not at his absolute best after a rousing run to the semi-finals in Vienna at the weekend, nevertheless can be pleased with his season, which effectively goes into hibernation, followed by quarantine in Melbourne before the start of the Australian Open in January. He should travel with heightened expectations, given he broke into the top 30 for the first time this year and collected nearly $1m along the way.
In the decade to 2019, Evans beat five top-20 players and lost to 20; this year alone, eight top 20-ranked players have melted in front of his nagging backhand slice and all-round court smarts. But he admitted on Tuesday: “I found it especially difficult. It was pretty dead, such a big court. I only just got here, different conditions, different balls, and a pretty flat match. It was not a perfect end to the year, but it summed up tennis in 2020, really. There was dead silence after good points, tough to gauge it. It’s a different game with no fans.
“We’re in lockdown when we go home, so back into a bubble. I really struggle with the travel and then going into quarantine, [you] take a test then you’re 24 hours in a hotel room. But the tournaments have done a great job looking after the players. It’s tough to call 2020 a good year, but there are way bigger things than the Tour. I just hope we can get things sorted for Australia and, after that, a bit more normality.”
Evans qualifies for Great Britain if the ATP Cup is held again, probably in Melbourne, and he hears there may be “fewer teams, a different week. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. The ATP are going to let us know within 10 days”.
In the dark chill of an echoing Court Central at the Palais Omnisports, meanwhile, Wawrinka steadily picked apart Evans’s game from deep in the first set with his monster single-handed backhand, wrapping it up with two aces among 17 clean winners. There was more resistance in the second set, with no break points on either side of the net as Wawrinka kept it alive at five-all. Evans survived a draining 24-shot rally in the 11th game to hold through deuce, throwing the pressure back on Wawrinka, who forced the tie-break.
Wawrinka crossed 4-2 up, and a blistering backhand passing shot earned him match point after an hour and a half of quality tennis. Evans saved at the net with a deft volley into the corner but he could do little more than get a racket on the next booming Swiss serve down the middle.