Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders if this is it for Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.
You’d be forgiven, in the midst of this current rejuvenation for the trio of top men’s players, to have overlooked the fate of a duo of players who both have visions of grandeur.
Because we sure as hell did overlook it on our end.
In fact, when we discussed with our editor the basis two weeks ago for the column that became our prediction for the year-end No. 1 player in the world in 2019, well we never even mentioned the names of Stan Wawrinka or Andy Murray.
Because it’s been a rough past year, and quite the precipitous fall, for the pair.
Of course, their cases aren’t fully similar but to the extent that they were once playing spoilers to a trio of players who could be three of the five best in history, then yes Murray and Wawrinka can be grouped together.
Here are the broad strokes for the similarities. On the one hand, they were once the only two to manage to break the hegemony at the top in men’s tennis over the past decade, each capturing three Grand Slam titles since the 2012 season to go along with a number of other titles of relative importance.
On the other hand, they were also never either quite as great as the men they were chasing, at least not for any extended period of time. Their numbers pale in comparison to those of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic but, again, the latter three deserve a spot on the Mount Rushmore of men’s tennis; that Murray and Wawrinka even managed to soar so high already is a victory of itself and they should be celebrated for this.
But for them to get back to the mountaintop, in 2019 and beyond? That’s the tricky part.
The first thing they need is to get healthy and to do so in a hurry. Respectively 33 and 31 years old, Wawrinka and Murray don’t have much time left and any return to prominence needs to start yesterday.
This is especially true for Murray who played all of 12 matches on tour in 2018 as he battled through injuries and fell to No. 259 in the world. He’s apparently already convinced John McEnroe that he’ll be okay, so why should we doubt him? Murray will compete at the Australian Open next month under a protected ranking, but then he’ll have only 200 points, and none before the end of June, to defend next year. If Murray ever gets back to the top, or near it, it starts in a month.
Because Murray will probably never have as promising an occasion to make up points and ground than he does now—that is, if he’s fully healthy.
The case for Wawrinka’s return is a little more basic, but also maybe more depressing? You see, Wawrinka’s return from injury came a year ago, after he had fallen out of the Top 250; sure, he battled injury last spring but for the most part Wawrinka was healthy enough to play 34 matches in 2018.
He was healthy enough, he just wasn’t really good? That might be harsh and simplifying things, but it’s not necessarily untrue. The former foremost Swiss Guy on the ATP won as many matches as he lost last year, and his best result was either a semifinal at the St. Petersburg Open or a quarterfinal berth in Cincinnati.
The boisterous, powerful and consistent Wawrinka, the one who would never.stop.going at you with heavy forehand after forehand, and the one whose backhand was possibly better than his all-world forehand, well this Wawrinka was missing in action in 2018.
But he’ll try again this upcoming season. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” That’s what the tattoo on his forearm says, but it’s also a way of life for Wawrinka.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG