“Jeu, set, match” and it’s another Grand Slam shock from Swiss player Stan Wawrinka, who at the age of 30 wins his second major in as many years. Wearing a questionable pair of chequered shorts, he walks into the net, embraces Novak Djokovic and returns to his chair, having toppled the ‘Big Four’ once more.
It seemed unthinkable that someone could topple Rafa Nadal on the clay courts of Roland Garros and when the Serbian did, it seemed destiny that Djokovic would complete a career Grand Slam. If he wasn’t on top form surely Andy Murray’s clay resurgence would see him lift his third Grand Slam and put to bed his terracotta demons. So could ‘Stan the Man’ really compete?
He passed through the draw almost in silence until the battle of the Swiss, when Roger Federer came toppling out of the draw after a straight sets defeat. He found himself in a semi-final with Jo Wilfried Tsonga, who had also been written off, deemed lazy after sacking his coach in favour of a lighter workload. Yet, one of them would gain a shot at the clay crown, making Stan a sudden favourite.
The trademark Wawrinka four setter then came out, taking the lead, falling behind and grinding his way to victory, reaching only his second Grand Slam final. And we all know what happened last time in Oz, when Nadal was favourite and the Swiss upset the apple cart and won his first Grand Slam.
The head-to-head was amazing for Sunday’s Roland Garros men’s final. Djokovic boasted 53 career titles, eight Grand Slam titles, a win percentage of over 81 percent and is two years Wawrinka’s junior. The Swiss, who won his first Grand Slam at 27, boasted just 10 career titles, only one Grand Slam title, a win percentage some 20 percent lower than his opponent and a ranking that had peaked at number three.
Surely a mismatch. If you were a betting man, you’d back the Serbian to complete the career Grand Slam and win the title that has eluded him. Things were going to this tune after one set as well, the world number one winning the set against fair resistance from the Swiss as if to say, “come back this time pal”.
The second set was tight again but it became clear that Stan wouldn’t give the match away. He would make the Serb beat him, boasting great defence and making winners. It was soon 1-1 and then 2-1 and that the atmosphere changed.
It seemed set to go the distance, with Wawrinka down 3-0 in games and down 0-40 on his serve but five consecutive outstanding points saw him come firing back. He not only held serve but found some of the finest tennis seen at Roland Garros to level the fifth set at 4-4.
He believed now and the infamous backhand was firing sublime passing shots past his opponent, who was being dominated. A fantastic break and Wawrinka was in dream land, 5-4 up and the chance to serve out for the Championship. With viewers pinching themselves, a match point came and went for the Swiss and his resolve was tested, a break point when just seconds before he seemed set to lift the title.
Mental strength showed and despite his best, Djokovic couldn’t convert and in beautifully fitting fashion, a backhand straight down the line claimed perhaps the most stunning victory in the current era of tennis. Hitting 60 winners against the best player in the world is no mean feat and is among the most achieved hit in a Grand Slam final.
Outside of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray only three other men have lifted Grand Slams since 2009, with Juan Martin Del Potro the first, lifting the US Open in that year. Few could then have imagined that Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori would face off at Flushing Meadows for the US Open crown last September, with the Croat too claiming a major.
But who could have imagined that there was room in the ATP locker-room for someone outside the ‘Fab Four’ to win two out of the last eight slams, especially a tour player with no real winning pedigree who was fourth round material at best. So what changed this fourth round warrior to a true contender?
Simple, his mindset.
After enlisting the services of Magnus Norman in 2013, his ability to win improved vastly. He recorded his best results at all the Grand Slam events, except Wimbledon, and reached his first ever Grand Slam semi-final in the US Open.
He was taking games he would previously have lost and had no regard for who he was playing. His run to the Australian Open in 2014 saw him beat both the top seeds in Nadal and defending champion Djokovic. He refused to go away, lingering in games, taking a fifth set against Djokovic in the quarter-final 9-7 showing how hard he is to defeat.
Getting a taste for winning from his 2014 Davis Cup victory with Switzerland and knowing that on his day his backhand is unplayable Wawrinka has grown and provides a very real threat to the tour. Where Murray’s career for instance has been plagued by six defeats in finals, the big occasions don’t seem to affect Stan and his 100 percent record in Grand Slam finals is something that no one will want to come up against.
The future looks bright for the 30-year-old and few could now write him off, having proven that even Djokovic on a 28 match unbeaten run doesn’t worry him. He delivers when it matters and could be a strong bet for the US Open.
The tournament last year gave some of the biggest shocks in Grand Slam history as both Federer and Djokovic were upset in the semi-finals. Wawrinka has the aptitude for hardcourts and in this form he may well be branded unstoppable.
Grass court season isn’t the best time for the game of ‘Super Stan’ but he won’t care. He’d only ever reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros before this year’s edition and he’ll be determined to put his mediocre form on the hallowed turfs of SW19 behind him and look to make at least his first Wimbledon semi-final.
Ultimately, Stan has proven in Paris that his remarkable victory in the Australian Open in 2014 was no fluke. His stock has yet again risen and his form against the top players is formidable. It may be a cliché but on his day ‘Stan the Man’ has become unbeatable.