Australian Open 2015: Stan Wawrinka will ‘try again’ in Novak Djokovic clash
Stan Wawrinka has maintained his low profile in Melbourne this year, despite being defending champion
Ever since Stanislas Wawrinka, as he was known back then, burst into the top 10 as a 24-year-old in 2008, he has owned one of the most watchable games in tennis.
It was built around a fine, powerful serve, great balance within a strong physique, and what would rapidly become one of the most admired and most destructive backhands in the business.
Once considered a dying art, the Wawrinka backhand is swung in that uniquely beautiful one-handed way—just like his famed friend and compatriot Roger Federer.
Yes, 2008 was a good year, especially on the surface where Wawrinka won the Junior French Open at 18. He reached his first Masters final in Rome, won Olympic gold in doubles with Federer, won all four of his Davis Cup singles matches to take Switzerland back into the World Group in 2009.
But it would be almost two years before, now ranked outside the top 20, he reached another final, though he attracted fresh tennis fans with some captivating performances. Like at the US Open in 2010, when he beat Andy Murray in four sets in the third round, then Sam Querrey in five sets, before losing to Mikhail Youzhny in another five-setter in the quarters.
His next final would not come until 2013, when the efforts of a reinvigorated Wawrinka bore fruit. He was now accompanied by two inspirations, Magnus Norman as coach, and a Samuel Beckett quote writ large on his forearm: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail better.”
His serve was bigger, his baseline game stronger courtesy of greater fitness and confidence, and then there was, of course, the backhand: with topspin, a powerful punch of a shot in every direction and at every angle; with slice, a subtle skim to the sideline, a chip, a volley, or drop winner.
And it all came together in Australia in the first of what would become a sequence of stunning five-set contests against Novak Djokovic. In the fourth round, Wawrinka eventually lost 10-12 in the fifth set. Later, he would take David Ferrer to three sets in the Buenos Aires final, and he came within a hair’s breadth of beating Federer at Indian Wells.
He got revenge over Ferrer to win the Portugal Open, lost to Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Masters final and the French Open quarters, and would come up against Djokovic again at the US Open. Already with wins over Tomas Berdych and Murray, he again lost to the top seed in another five-setter. He ended the year ranked No8 and in the semis of his first ATP World Tour Finals… hardly failing at all.
And that was just the start for the man growing into his new status and ranking, confident in his skin, and this time ready to defeat Djokovic in last year’s Australian Open. It lasted, naturally, five sets in four hours of wonderful tennis, but that took him only to the semi-finals. So he beat Berdych in three and a half hours and four sets—including three tie-breakers—and finally Nadal to claim his first Grand Slam and No3 ranking, overtaking Federer for the first time.
By no stretch of the imagination did this marry with the words of his Beckett quote, for this was as far from failing as you can get in tennis. But his words afterwards suggested otherwise: “I never expected to win a Grand Slam. I never dreamed about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guys. But last year I realised I had something inside me to play the top players. One year ago I was still No20 in the world. Now I am No3 with a Grand Slam. It is a beautiful thing for me.”
2014, as it happens, would bring some ‘failures’—losing in the first round of Roland Garros, for example. But he also beat Federer to claim his first Masters title in Monte Carlo, reached the quarters of the remaining two Slams, and has remained locked inside the top four ever since. He concluded by leading his famed compatriot to Davis Cup victory.
More so than in 2008, more so than during that 2010 flourish, more than at any time since signing up to those Becket words, then, Wawrinka has claimed legions of fans drawn to his fearless, attacking brand of tennis and to a modest confidence as special as his backhand.
And the quiet man, now ‘Stan the man’, has maintained his low profile in Melbourne this year, despite being defending champion, being world No4, and looking increasingly impressive with each round.
He had lost to No5 seed Kei Nishikori in their last match—yet another memorable five-setter in New York—but here Wawrinka beat him in straight sets. Just the kind of assurance of form to boost his profile ahead of a third meeting with Djokovic in Melbourne in as many years.
Talking to the media this time around, he has a more confident bearing than a year ago—but only a little more.
“I don’t feel pressure by defending the title because I don’t come here to defend it. I come here as a new challenge, a new Grand Slam. That’s how I start the tournament.
“I know that now I have a Grand Slam [trophy] at home. I won the Davis Cup also. I have the confidence from that. I know I can make it. I trust my game. I trust myself on the court even when we start to play semi-final or final.
“[But] I’m really happy to be already in the semi-final, to play that well so far. It’s never easy for me, for my game. So I’m going to enjoy.”
As Wawrinka ‘tries again’, it’s probably fair to say that many others will also enjoy.