After battling to three-set wins in his first two matches at the Prague Challenger, Stan Wawrinka made it three in a row on Thursday, beating India’s Sumit Nagal, 2-6, 6-0, 6-1, to reach the semifinals.
After dropping the first set, Wawrinka won 11 games in a row to take the second set and go up 5-0 in the third. Nagal held one last time to close the gap to 5-1 before Wawrinka swiftly served it out.
“It was a tough start again,” he said. “But it’s good to win another match, going to three sets again and spending more time in the game, so that’s something positive. I started to play a bit better, moving better and making him play a lot more balls than in the first set, where I was missing a lot.
“I’m still far away from my level, but I’m here for that, to keep improving day by day.”
The No. 17-ranked Swiss had beaten No. 178-ranked Russian Roman Safiullin in his first match of the week, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, and No. 217-ranked German Oscar Otte in his second match, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Awaiting the No. 1-seeded Wawrinka in the semifinals will be Czech wild card Michael Vrbensky. The No. 405-ranked, 20-year-old Vrbensky will be playing a Top 100 player for the first time in his career.
“At my age, I only play younger players, so I’m used to it!” the 35-year-old Wawrinka said. “But I think it’s great to see the younger players come up, and I’m looking forward to playing him for the first time.
“I watched him play the match before me today, against Elias Ymer, and he was playing really well, really solid,” he added. “He was trying to be really aggressive. I think it’s going to be a tough match.”
The other semifinal in Prague will see No. 3 seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert take on unseeded Russian Aslan Karatsev, who’s been a giant-killer this week, taking out three seeds to reach the final four—No. 2 seed Jiri Vesely, No. 14 seed Ernests Gulbis and No. 7 seed Henri Laaksonen—all in straight sets.
Wawrinka is playing a Challenger for the first time in just over 10 years. His last time playing at this level came in June 2010, when he won his sixth and most recent Challenger title on home soil in Lugano, Switzerland. He’s competing at back-to-back Challengers on clay in Prague over the next two weeks, opting to stay in Europe over seeking a fourth major title in New York.
Meanwhile, at the other Challenger event taking place this week in Todi, Italy, another notable name—Marco Cecchinato—is through to the semifinals, winning his quarterfinal match on Thursday against unseeded Argentine Juan Pablo Ficovich, 6-3, 6-4. The No. 2-seeded Cecchinato, a French Open semifinalist in 2018 and a former Top 20 player, will next face No. 7 seed Yannick Hanfmann. The other semifinal pits No. 5 seed Facundo Bagnis against unseeded Spaniard Bernabe Zapata Miralles.