Oddly enough, it seems like Stanislas Wawrinka learned he could win by losing a match.
The story has taken a life of its own, and should continue to do so with every title the 31-year-old adds to his name, but it bears repeating here. In the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open, Wawrinka lost an absolute thrilling match against eventual winner Novak Djokovic, battling until 12-10 in the fifth set.
Wawrinka called this loss “the best match I’ve ever played,” so it’s not like we’re pulling at strings with our opener, right? This was indeed quite a turning point in his career. “At the end I was really, really close. For sure I’m really sad. It’s a big disappointment to lose that match, but I think there are more positives than negatives.”
You could say that.
Fast forward for three years, and the great Roger Federer appears done, with the result that the other Swiss Guy has become the foremost Swiss Guy on the ATP World Tour. What was once a Big Three plus Andy Murray has morphed into Djokovic’s world in 2016, with Wawrinka standing right behind him as the most dangerous player on Tour.
The Swiss is now ranked No. 3 and now has three different Grand Slam titles to his name: the 2014 Australian Open, the 2015 Roland Garros and the 2016 US Open. And really, considering Wawrinka beat the Serb on his way to each of his three titles, maybe it’s Wawrinka who’s the most dangerous player in the world?
In any case, we would venture to say that the 31-year-old is not likely to be forgotten by tennis pundits. Long after he’s retired, we’re convinced we’ll still remember the other Swiss Guy who managed to emerge from Federer’s large shadow in the latter part of his playing days.
In 2016, Wawrinka is known for his self-belief, the way he seemingly is convinced that no match is out of his reach—regardless of the situation. During matches, after an important game, you may catch him pointing to his temple; keep believing, and everything will take care of itself. Wawrinka has a life mantra that he found in the words of poet Samuel Beckett, one he’s permanently inscribed on his left arm three years ago (again: we told you that this Australian Open loss was a turning point for him. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
While the hard truth and numbers seems to put the Swiss in company with very strong players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, history will likely be kinder to him than it will to this trio. For one thing, Wawrinka has won his last 11 Tour finals. The Swiss has thee career Grand Slam titles, which is an outlier compared to Tsonga and co. but is right on part with Murray. He also is the oldest player to win the US Open in four decades, and the fifth in the Open era to grab multiple titles after turning 30.
History tends to love a winner and will love Wawrinka. In the same way that Murray never quite reached the heights of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer but stood out so much above his peers, Wawrinka is not quite an Andy Murray but he’s quite a bit above Tsonga’s level. He’s won only 23 % of his matches against the Big Four, but 59% of them against Tsonga, Ferrer and Berdych.
This, to me, means that among this era, history will remember Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, then Murray, and then Wawrinka.
Where the Swiss does distinguish himself is how he plays in the biggest matches if he manages to get there. “He plays best in the big matches,” Djokovic said after losing the US Open final. “He definitely deserves to be mentioned in the mix of top players.”
Wawrinka has been an afterthought for most of his career. But history will remember him as anything but.
— Stanislas Wawrinka (@stanwawrinka) September 13, 2016
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG