Out of the shadows
Swiss tennis phenomenon Stanislas Wawrinka has spent several years being the second best Swiss on the court, being overshadowed by the legendary Roger Federer for several years. His compatriot Magnus Norman faced the same conundrum for many years before him.
For Wawrinka, history repeated itself last night as he came back from a set down to demolish World Number one Novak Djokovic 6-7(1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. In 2015, Wawrinka beat the Serbian superstar 4–6, 6–4, 6–3, 6–4 at Roland Garros, winning his second Grand Slam final in as many attempts.
Wawrinka had lost nine of his first 13 finals before he won the French Open title. He hasn’t looked back since then. The Swiss has won eleven straight finals, including three Grand Slam finals against the reigning World No 1. All that is left for the 31-year-old is to win the Wimbledon to cement his status as a true Grand Slam champion.
The story of “Stan the Man” is one of true grit and resolve, the foundation of which is laid upon decades of demoralising defeats. Any other tennis player of his calibre, who has faced the same amount of bad luck as he has, would have given up on his promising singles career. Not Wawrinka though, who has risen to be ranked No. 3 in the world and carved a niche for himself while playing in the era of the Big Four club.
Speaking after his intense battle with Djokovic at the Flushing Meadows, Wawrinka explained: “You have to expect to suffer and you have to almost enjoy suffering. I was already feeling tired at the beginning of the match. I was feeling the cramps coming in the third set.
“In the fourth set I had some pain, but the most important was what I discussed with (coach) Magnus Norman before the match,” added the three-time Grand Slam champion. “To keep fighting and try to win it.” Wawrinka has nerves of steel and for several years he has persevered away from the limelight. Once he discovered the will power and resolve that he is now famous, he became the master of his own domain. A ridiculous amount of self-belief is needed to remain committed to tennis and to oneself, keeping in mind you will always be your nation’s “second best”, after Federer. The mere fact that he persisted for almost a decade to reach the heights that he has today is testament to the feats the indomitable human spirit can achieve.
Coming back to his rivalry with Djokovic, Stan, in fact, won his first ever ATP World Tour title in July 2006, when the Serbian retired due to fatigue. At the Australian Open in 2013, when the two men met each other in the fourth round, Wawrinka was looking at an eleventh successive loss at the hands of a marauding Djokovic. In an unexpected twist of fate, Wawrinka fought for more than five hours before Djokovic surrendered 10-12 in the fifth set. Looking back, this was perhaps the match that woke up the beast inside Wawrinka. Unlike Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic, who held their own against the Big Four juggernaut, Wawrinka’s victories aren’t flash in the pan performances. And when – not if – he wins at the Wimbledon, he will, without a doubt cement his status as a force to reckon with.
Yet another remarkable fact about Wawrinka’s victory is the fact that he beat all odds, more specifically his age, to beat the younger, more agile, taller and stronger Djokovic at Monday’s finale.
This little information might be overlooked, but Wawrinka is the first player over the age of 30 to have the US Open in over 14 years. Why this is commendable is simple: tennis, as every sport, has evolved tremendously in the past two decades. Since the advent of the Open era, players have become stronger, fitter, and take more risks. If the last ten editions of the US Open have shown us anything, it is that if age is on your side, your chances of winning increase proportionally. Wawrinka is like fine wine though; he has only got better with age. And the man is yet to prove his mettle.