PARIS » The positive vibes and big-deal victories began for Stan Wawrinka at last year’s U.S. Open, back when he still went by "Stanislas," and picked up steam at this year’s Australian Open, where he earned the right to forever be called "major champion."
And yet all of that seemed so far away late Monday at the French Open as dusk approached — and defeat became apparent — in Wawrinka’s first Grand Slam match since winning his first major title.
Surprisingly, Wawrinka looked listless. More stunningly, he looked very little like a guy who was seeded No. 3 behind Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and who had proclaimed himself "one of the favorites" just a few days earlier. In by far the biggest development of the tournament’s first two days, Wawrinka lost in the first round at Roland Garros with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0 defeat to 41st-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain.
"I was trying to find my game, trying … to be aggressive, trying to find anything. And I didn’t," said Wawrinka, whose trademark one-handed backhanded was off-target throughout. "I was completely flat."
He is the first Australian Open champ to exit in the first round of that year’s French Open since Petr Korda in 1998.
Garcia-Lopez has never been past the third round at a major.
During a pre-tournament news conference Friday, Wawrinka spoke about deriving confidence from his recent spate of success.
Long in the shadow of Roger Federer, his Swiss Davis Cup and Olympic teammate, not to mention good friend, Wawrinka reached his first major semifinal in New York last September, beating defending champion Andy Murray before losing a five-setter to Djokovic. In January, Wawrinka topped Nadal in the Australian Open final.
Boosting his clay-court bona fides heading to Paris, Wawrinka defeated Federer in April’s final at the Monte Carlo Masters.
While he’s never been beyond the quarterfinals at the French Open, Wawrinka seemed primed to do so.
Instead, he lost in the first round in Paris for the first time since 2006, when he was only 21.
"I need to put the puzzle back together, but differently than in the past," Wawrinka said, "because now — after winning a Grand Slam, (Monte Carlo), being No. 3 in the world — everything is different."
Wawrinka — who recently told the ATP he’d rather go by the shortened version of his first name — finished with 62 unforced errors, 34 more than Garcia-Lopez.
"I think what made him lose is he was not very strong mentally — and I was," said Garcia-Lopez, who thought the match would be suspended because of impending darkness; there are no artificial lights on French Open courts.
"I’m not as overwhelmed by emotions as I used to be," Garcia-Lopez said. "I played my game, on my terms."
Wawrinka’s loss means yet another season will pass without one man winning the Australian Open and French Open; Jim Courier was the last to accomplish that double, in 1992.
Another top-10 man lost Monday when No. 9 Kei Nishikori of Japan was eliminated by Martin Klizan of Slovakia. No. 17 Roberta Vinci of Italy was the only seeded woman to exit Monday, when winners included 2012 champion Maria Sharapova and 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.
Nadal and Djokovic, meanwhile, looked very much like the top two seeds.
When No. 2 Djokovic’s victory was interrupted by one of the passing showers that made Monday a stop-and-start affair, he pulled a white windbreaker over his head, plopped down on his changeover bench, and invited a ball boy to sit, too. Djokovic exchanged a racket for the kid’s tournament umbrella. Then Djokovic handed over a Perrier, grabbed his own orange-colored drink, and the pair clinked bottles, sipped, then had a conversation.
"We had a nice chat. He’s a tennis player, so I asked him how long he’s (been) playing and how he’s enjoying his time as a ball kid," Djokovic related with a smile. "Fun time."
Yes, all’s fun and games when you’re on your way to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory against 44th-ranked Joao Sousa of Portugal.
Nadal improved to 60-1 at the French Open by winning 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 over Robby Ginepri, an American ranked 279th.
"It’s probably one of the toughest feats in sports," Ginepri said, "to play Nadal at the French Open."
Afterward, Nadal shrugged off the idea that he might have felt snubbed about playing in Court Suzanne Lenglen instead of the tournament’s main stadium.
"Doesn’t really matter a lot," Nadal said.
Nothing seems to matter much when he plays in Paris.
Howard Fendrich, Associated Press