Friday 17 May 2013
This week's think piece sees Wimbledon.com wonder about the man in Federer's shadow, Stanislas Wawrinka, and whether he could be making it big at SW19 this summer...
The most significant piece of news about Swiss tennis from the last few days was not - would you believe it? - that Roger Federer has had a haircut, but that Stanislas Wawrinka has returned to the top 10. For the first time in five years, there are two Swiss men in the elite, and, the way that Wawrinka has been playing on the clay this spring, it is a moot point which one is going to have the greatest impact at Roland Garros.
Put it this way - when the draw is made in Paris next week, Federer and Wawrinka's international colleagues in the locker-room will be hoping to avoid having both Swiss with single-handed backhands.
Even allowing for the interest in Federer's hair, this has so far been Wawrinka's clay-court swing, not Roger's. When this week's tournament began at Rome's Foro Italico, there was no argument which of the two Swiss had so far had the best results on the terracotta courts of Europe. Federer's return to competition in Madrid - it was his first tournament for a couple of months - was not nearly as spectacular as he would have hoped for, as he lost early, in the third round, to Japan's Kei Nishikori. Wawrinka, meanwhile, has reached two finals, winning the title in Portugal with victory over Spain's David Ferrer, and finishing as the runner-up to Rafa Nadal in Madrid. Wawrinka has demonstrated that he can play on grass - he is probably best known in Britain for contesting the first full match played under Wimbledon's Centre Court roof, losing a five-setter against Andy Murray in the fourth round of the 2009 Championships. And also on hard courts - he came very close to beating Novak Djokovic in the third round of this year's Australian Open, losing the fifth set 12-10. But it is on the clay that he and his backhand feel most comfortable.
Being the second best tennis player in Switzerland is much like being the second fastest man in Jamaica; there's just no escaping the shadow of the other guy.
But you should not imagine for a moment that Wawrinka is in any way bitter about all the attention and praise given to Federer. Wawrinka is much too balanced an individual to waste energy on that. The man from Lausanne has taken the view that he has benefited enormously from having the man from Basle around. When Wawrinka first arrived on the tour, there was another Swiss to practise with, and to talk to. Plus, if it wasn't for the other, they wouldn't be former Olympic gold medallists - Stan and Roger combined at the 2008 Beijing Games to win the doubles tournament.
"When I arrived on the circuit, Roger was already there," Wawrinka said. "He was already top 10 and it was really good for me. I was young. I got to practise with him a lot. And I've got to play Davis Cup with him. We won the Olympics together. So it's always been something really positive to be in the same era as Roger. I'm still really proud to have that player in Switzerland. For me, he's the best player ever in the world, and for the moment he's going to stay there. I hope he's going to still win many more tournaments."
Wawrinka has just started working with a new coach, Magnus Norman, a former world No.2 and finalist at Roland Garros, with Madrid their first tournament together. It is going to be fascinating to see what Wawrinka and Norman can achieve together in Paris this year.
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