MONTE CARLO: Stan Wawrinka marked his return to Tour level competition for the first time in 13 months by showing glimpses of his old form but the Swiss failed to get past Alexander Bublik in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters, losing 3-6 7-5 6-2 on Monday.
The three-times Grand Slam champion suffered a foot injury early in 2021 and had surgery in March last year before another operation three months later, only returning to action at a Challenger Tour tournament in Marbella last month.
While the 37-year-old was beaten in the first round of that event, there were few signs of rustiness against world number 36 Bublik on Court Rainier III as he raced through the first set in only 27 minutes to seize the early advantage in the contest.
Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, squandered an opportunity to break Bublik early in the second set and staved off three set points to hold for 5-5 but could not prevent his determined Kazakh opponent from taking the contest into a decider.
Bublik surged to a 5-1 lead in the final set as Wawrinka faded, before the 24-year-old closed out the victory and offered a scathing assessment of his own performance.
"I hate clay," Bublik said. "The only thing I can say is to wish Stan a speedy recovery, because if he would have been in shape, I wouldn't be standing here.
"I wish the clay (season) ends soon and we go on to grass. That's the only thing I can say. Nothing about the match or the performance, because there was no match from my side."
Former semi-finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's final appearance at the Masters 1000 tournament ended in disappointment after the Frenchman was beaten 6-2 6-2 by Marin Cilic.
Tsonga has announced his decision to retire after the French Open.
Ninth seed Jannik Sinner went through with a 6-3 2-6 6-3 victory over Borna Coric, who showed plenty of fight in only his third tournament of the season after a year out following a shoulder injury.
Earlier, 2019 champion Fabio Fognini beat Arthur Rinderknech 7-5 4-6 6-3 while Sebastian Korda powered past Botic van de Zandschulp 7-5 6-4 and Albert Ramos-Vinolas downed Tallon Griekspoor 6-4 4-6 6-2.
The event is without several top players, including Rafa Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Matteo Berrettini. However, world number one Novak Djokovic returns to action against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Tuesday.