INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—A year after coming back to the tour from knee surgery, Stan Wawrinka is playing down his ability to challenge Roger Federer in their third-round meeting at Indian Wells. But Federer, who is 21-3 against Wawrinka, believes his Swiss compatriot may be ready to return to the game's top tier.
"If he's in no pain or injury-free, we will see a great Stan here, down the road, without a doubt, because I know what he can do," said Federer. "I think a lot of Stan. He's got all the different options how to win points. He's a fighter and a winner. I hope he's going to be in the Top 20, Top 10 very soon again.”
Wawrinka defeated Daniel Evans and Marton Fucsovics in three sets to reach the third round, and sees the tough matches as good preparation for Federer, a five-time champion at at Indian Wells. Wawrinka, who lost to Federer 6-4, 7-5 in the 2017 Indian Wells final, has only beaten Federer on clay.
"I think it's great for me. Most important is to win two matches here, to win the way I won [the second round]," said Wawrinka. "It was tough battle, fighting, staying there physically, tennis-wise, mentally, also. Those match I know that can help me to get some big result.”
“I think maybe on clay, first my game is a bit more stronger, I have a little bit more time. I can use more topspin, playing more heavy on his backhand, push him more from the baseline. I think on the hardcourts he can always play a little bit quicker. He can come to the net more. He can mix a little bit more.”
At the start of 2018, Wawrinka took two breaks from the game and finished the season 17-17. Currently No. 40 in the rankings, Wawrinka will turn 34 later this month.
“He came from very far away," said Federer. "Clearly, he knew and I knew that he was not ready for the  Australian Open, but he still wanted to give it a go. “I was just hoping he'd get through the Australian Open uninjured, which he did, which I was happy for him. I really feel like he's been back at a normal level, let's say, around the US Open.
Wawrinka, who teamed with Federer to win an Olympic gold in doubles in 2008, has won three Grand Slam singles titles.
“It’s going to be tough match, for sure. He's the best player to ever play the sport,” Wawrinka said. “Stats against each other are really, really not in my favor."