The Roar
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Confidence may be Stanislas Wawrinka's greatest weapon

Stan Wawrinka takes home (Source: AFP PHOTO / SAEED KHAN)
Roar Rookie
21st April, 2014
5

At the beginning of the year, talk of anyone but tennis’ big four winning a Masters 1000, let alone a grand slam, was ludicrous.

Novak Djokovic had won his third straight Australian Open a year prior, Andy Murray had finally won Wimbledon, and Rafa Nadal had once again reached the summit of world tennis, winning Roland Garros and the US Open, and reclaiming the number 1 ranking.

The Master’s events were no different, with Rafa taking five, Djokovic three and Murray claiming a single Masters 1000 event in Miami.

In fact, the only name noticeably absent from the trophy cabinet was that of Roger Federer. But if somebody told you that it would be his Davis Cup teammate Stanislas Wawrinka who would break the Swiss drought, you’d have been justifiably sceptical.

Few gave Wawrinka a fighting chance of winning the 2014 Australian Open, even after his dramatic quarter-final victory over the king of the Melbourne hardcourts, Novak Djokovic. After all, he still had the likes of Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal live in the draw.

The scepticism grew as the final drew closer (Stan’s victory over Berdych notwithstanding), as Federer knocked off Murray in four and Rafa, in turn, produced a devastating display to oust Federer in straight sets come the semi-final.

Rafa beating Federer? Move along, nothing to see here… right? But this was a newly invigorated Federer. He was trained by Stefan Edberg. He was rushing the net. He was playing aggressively. He had a new racquet, people!

Nadal’s merciless display on centre court silenced the critics, and the stage was set for the great Spaniard to complete an astonishing second career grand slam. The ensuing four sets of tennis delivered in drama what it lacked in quality.

“The Stanimal” swung away like a player with nothing to lose and for a full set, Rafa appeared bamboozled by the fearlessness of the Swiss. After several torrid exchanges, Wawrinka took the first set 6-3, and the world hunkered down and broke out the popcorn for what promised to be another five set nail-biter.

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It wasn’t to be.

Stan held his nerve to win the second 6-2, despite frustration that Rafa had exceeded the time limit for a medical timeout without penalty. Those frustrations took over in the third and errors inevitably followed, as he audibly scolded himself several times throughout the set. Rafa would prevail 6-3, forcing a fourth, which would contain as much ebb and flow as the match itself.

Having led 4-2, then losing his serve to love, then breaking again, the Stanimal would finally serve it out to win 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3, defying an 0 for 12 win/loss record against Nadal and becoming a Grand Slam champion.

On the winner’s podium afterwards, he seemed as shocked as anyone by his victory, saying, “Right now I still don’t know if I’m dreaming or not, but we’ll see tomorrow morning.”

He was universally praised and yet similarly questioned. Would he have won had Rafa not struggled with his back? Would he be a one-slam-wonder? Was he good, or was he just ‘hot’?

Fast forward to the present day, and coming into the Rolex Masters in Monte Carlo, balance had been momentarily restored; since the Australian Open Djokovic had taken back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami, with Federer and Nadal each winning 500 events in the interim.

Things began innocently enough. Rafa breezed through to the quarter-finals without dropping a set, but would ultimately be denied a chance for revenge over Wawrinka in the semis, losing to David Ferrer. Stan would then go on to defeat Ferrer, reaching the final without dropping a set himself. On the opposite side of the draw, Federer and Djokovic dropped a set each on their way to their semi-final meeting, with Federer eventually putting Djokovic away in three.

Stan hadn’t lost his serve in the tournament, but also had steered clear of the big three leading up to the final. And in true Federer form, he became the first in the tournament to break Wawrinka’s serve, winning the opening set 6-4. The second set would be much more closely contested, with each player breaking his countryman’s serve in the early going. The set remained on serve until the tiebreak, which Stan would win 7-5. Going into the third, momentum belonged entirely to Stan. He raced to a two break, 4-0 lead, and didn’t let go, eventually claiming his first Masters 1000 title 4-6 7-6 (5) 6-2.

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In a post-match interview Wawrinka remarked: “I’m really happy. I knew when I came here that my level was there, I didn’t expect to win here because it was a tough draw… but I know when I play that well I can beat all the players.”

Let’s have a look at that statement. It’s still stamped with his trademark humility, but for the simple acknowledgement at the end that “when I play that well I can beat all the players”.

After his victory over Djokovic at the Australian Open, Stan lamented, “When Novak is playing his best he’s better than me, for sure.” He has been similarly quoted in the past when speaking of the top players in general. His thoughts after winning his maiden Masters 1000 title may be his earliest verbal acknowledgement that he belongs in that group himself.

Before the beginning of this season, his total win/loss record against Novak, Roger and Rafa was 3–40. Since the beginning of this season, it’s 3-0. Not to state the obvious, but in 2014 it’s taken him 40 fewer meetings to accumulate the same amount of victories that he’d previously been working for since as far back as 2005.

He’s still armed with the same big serve that he had in 2013, when he lost five set classics to Djokovic at two grand slams. He’s still armed with the same blazing backhand that he had when Rafa trounced him in straight sets, well… every time they’d played. The newest weapon in his arsenal may well be his confidence, and the belief in himself that he has what it takes to compete.

Tattooed onto his left arm, Stanislas Wawrinka has a quote from playwright Samuel Beckett (of Waiting for Godot fame). It reads “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Clearly, Stanislas Wawrinka has taken it upon himself to rewrite the book on failure. And that spells trouble for everyone else on the ATP tour.