• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Wawrinka thriving in a brave new world

In the corridors that wind through the press centre at Roland Garros, Switzerland's two best players passed within minutes of each other.

From the way Roger Federer swaggered from interview to photo shoot, you might have thought it was 2009 all over again, the year he won the French Open to complete the career Grand Slam.

But this weekend, Stan Wawrinka was just as much in demand as his older, more famous compatriot, something neither man would have thought possible even 12 months ago. Since then, of course, Wawrinka won the Australian Open, finally breaking the stranglehold of the big four at the Grand Slams. The Swiss was the first man other than Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray to win a Grand Slam title since 2009, and only the second since 2005. It was a success few saw coming, even if his talent had never been in question. Time and again Wawrinka had pushed the top players hard only to fall agonisingly short. In Australia, he was a changed man, beating Djokovic on the way to the final and then, against a Nadal affected by a back problem, holding his nerve to clinch that first Grand Slam title. So what has changed since then? Not much, other than that Wawrinka no longer wants to be called Stanislas and prefers Stan.

"It's just to simplify everything on the draw, my name during the press conference," he said. "That's the only reason. Andy [Murray] did it, as well [going from Andrew to Andy]. It's to simplify the whole thing. That's all. Nothing important."

What is important is the effect that winning in Melbourne has had on Wawrinka. From a man who believed he was not quite good enough, he has been transformed into knowing he belongs in the company of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer.

"I am playing better at a high level," he said. "My confidence mainly, it's different. I know that whoever I'm going to play against, I can defeat them all. It depends very much on me. Then it's small details that make the biggest differences in terms of rankings and results."

His ranking of No 3 makes him the Swiss No 1 - not a big deal one might think but being above Federer is always a big deal in Switzerland - and he is, of course, trying to win a second Grand Slam title.

"I look at this Open differently," Wawrinka admitted. "I had to adapt after Australia. When I'm here now, I know that I can go far. I have done it before. So the way I look at it is quite different.

"Mentally speaking I have more confidence. Mentally I know what it takes, what I have to do to be ready."

After a couple of poor defeats following his Melbourne win, Wawrinka rebounded spectacularly to win the Monte Carlo title, another nail in the heart of Nadal, who had won it eight times. "It was really big," Wawrinka said. "Not only for clay but in general, now, after winning a Grand Slam it was important for me to win a Masters 1000. It was something really difficult, but I did it in Monaco, first tournament on clay against Roger [in the final], so it was even more special."

What Wawrinka has also done is show the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and others that the top four - in name if not ranking - are no longer quite so unbeatable in the major events.

"Maybe I have given them ideas, that's true," he said. "But it's not because I have won this Grand Slam that the others will do the same. It's not by watching people play or win that you're going to win yourself.

"And yet I have shown that things are possible. It's possible, yet it's very difficult. It's tough and complicated to go for it and fight against the best."

Much of the talk coming into Paris has been whether this year marks the start of Nadal's eventual decline. The Spaniard goes in as the world No 1 and won the title in Madrid, but he was beaten by Djokovic in the Rome final and there have been one or two signs that his game is not where it was 12 months ago.

But the eight-times champion remains the king on clay until he is dethroned and a final against Djokovic, who needs the title to complete the career Grand Slam, still seems likely.

"I'm one of the favourites but I'm far behind Rafa and Novak," said Wawrinka, seeded to play Murray in the quarter-finals and Nadal in the semi-finals. "You can tell me what you want. It's always going to be the case. When they're on [top form], nobody else can beat them."

Simon Cambers

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

235823