After a difficult week where he has faced a stern challenge literally every round, Stan Wawrinka has reached the final of the 2020 Prague Challenger. The former World No. 3 has one last hurdle - Russia's Aslan Karatsev - in his path before he can lay his hands on his first trophy since returning from injury in 2018.
Wawrinka lost the first set to home favorite and World No. 402 Michael Vrbensky in the semifinals, before coming back to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. The three-time Slam champion has been in questionable form all week, and Friday was no different as he got broken while serving to stay in the first set.
But 'Stan The Man' once again fought back bravely, lifting his game when it mattered the most. He won the next two sets convincingly to book his place in the final, where he will face a surprise opponent in World No. 253 Aslan Karatsev.
Karatsev stunned World No. 71 Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-5, 7-6 in the semifinals, but that wasn't his first upset of the week. The 26-year-old from Moscow has defeated as many as four seeded players on his road to the final, including Jiri Vesely and Ernests Gulbis.
Stan Wawrinka would be wary of the form his opponent has shown throughout the week, and will have to bring his A game if he hopes to cross the final frontier. Karatsev on the other hand has nothing to lose, and will look to cap his dream week in style by registering the biggest win of his career.
Stan Wawrinka vs Aslan Karatsev head-to-head
This will be the first ever meeting between the pair. Like most of his opponents this week, Stan Wawrinka will face another player he has never met before.
Aslan Karatsev is a regular on the Challenger and Futures circuits, while Wawrinka has been a mainstay on the ATP tour for more than a decade. Needless to say, there is a huge gulf in achievements between the two.
Stan Wawrinka vs Aslan Karatsev prediction
Aslan Karatsev would look for inspiration from Stan Wawrinka's previous two opponents Sumit Nagal and Michael Vrbensky, and grab the opening set before the Swiss can find his bearings. However, the Russian would need to do one better than his predecessors, who capitulated under the pressure after getting the early lead.
That said, Karatsev has shown no signs of surrendering to his nerves this week. He hasn't dropped a single set on his way to the final, despite facing some quality opponents over his five matches so far.
The Russian would need to perform at an even higher level in the final if he is to win the second Challenger title of his career.
Wawrinka would be the bettors' favorite going into the match, due to his vast experience and ability to handle pressure. The Swiss also boasts a stellar 12-5 win-loss record in finals on the ATP tour since 2014, and has previously won six Challenger tournaments - the last one coming in 2010.
But if Karatsev turns up with the same kind of form he has shown in his first five matches, Wawrinka would need to produce his very best tennis to win. And the Swiss has found it a little difficult to do that this week.
Prediction: Aslan Karatsev to win in three sets.
Tournament: Prague Open 2020
Venue: Prague, Czech Republic
Category: ATP Challenger 125
Surface: Red clay
Prize money: €137,560
Match timing: 11 am CEST, 2:30 pm IST