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With a losing record on clay (6-7) in 2006, Stan Wawrinka arrived at the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag seeking more match play on the surface. He left with his first ATP Tour title after weathering a challenging draw that included three teenagers who would become future stars: Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic.

The unseeded Swiss, No. 67 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, started his week with a first-round 7-6(3), 6-3 upset of sixth-seeded Spaniard Alberto Martin to set up a clash with local wild card Cilic. The 17-year-old Croatian was coming off his first ATP Tour semi-final earlier that month in Gstaad. Although the centre court crowd was firmly in favour of Cilic, Wawrinka overcame them and a mid-match surge from his opponent to win their first ATP Head2Head meeting 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

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Next up for Wawrinka was another talented 17-year-old in Del Potro, who recorded his maiden tour-level quarter-final the previous week in Stuttgart. Despite the Argentine landing 85 per cent of his first serves, Wawrinka racked up seven break points and converted four to advance 6-1, 2-6. 6-4. The victory clinched his third tour-level semi-final of the season.

Wawrinka then sought revenge against Filippo Volandri after the Italian dismissed him three years earlier in Umag. Although Volandri won more points on the day (87 to 82), the Swiss prevailed in the rallies that mattered most. The 21-year-old stepped up in the final minutes of the match and defeated Volandri 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 for his first tour-level final of the year.

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Standing in the way of his first ATP Tour title was Djokovic, who scored a dominant straight-sets win in the other semi-final against former World No. 1 and 1998 Roland Garros champion Carlos Moya. The final had plenty of hype since the 19-year-old Djokovic won his first tour-level crown a week earlier in Amersfoort (d. Massu) and held a nine-match winning streak.

Unfortunately, the championship clash didn’t fully materialise. Djokovic experienced severe respiratory problems throughout the first set and a physician held his chest at one point to help him breathe properly. Trailing 1/3 in the opening-set tie-break, Djokovic lay down on court as his father, Srdjan, ran out to check his pulse alongside a doctor. The Serbian was helped to his seat and retired minutes later.

The match was their first ATP Head2Head meeting in a rivalry that has spanned 14 years. Djokovic has won five of their six clay-court battles since Umag, but Wawrinka made his lone victory count by defeating the Serbian in the 2015 Roland Garros final. The Swiss has since gone to capture 16 tour-level titles including three Grand Slams (2014 Australian Open, 2015 Roland Garros, 2016 US Open).

Wawrinka also hasn’t beaten Del Potro on clay (1-3) since their Umag showdown, but he has maintained his flawless record against Cilic (6-0) on the surface.


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