If points were awarded for natural on-court flair and ability, Switzerland’s stocks would arguably rank among the best with Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in the ranks.
But where Federer has won all before him, the perennial Swiss No.2 has long had to deal with living in his countryman’s shadow with question marks constantly raised over his mental ware in crunch situations.
Carrying his season-best form into the new year with a second Chennai title at the weekend, Wawrinka will contest the AAMI Classic at Kooyong with his star having never looked brighter.
When asked who from the field of eight were the players to beat at the Australian Open lead-in event, in-form Australian Lleyton Hewitt, fresh from a title run of his own in Brisbane, singled out Czech Davis Cup star and world No.7 Tomas Berdych and world No.8 Wawrinka.
“You know, Stan, obviously coming from Chennai and having a great last year and you know, I commentated his match against Novak last year at the Aussie Ope, it was pretty impressive,” the two-time grand slam champion said.
That match – a fourth round epic against Novak Djokovic, which he lost 12-10 in the fifth on Rod Laver Arena – was widely regarded as among the finest matches contested in the 2013 season.
In an unwanted case of déjà vu for the Swiss player, a second five-set loss to the Serbian on centre court at a grand slam was also touted as among the best matches of last year.
That run including beating Berdych before comfortably accounting for defending champion Andy Murray to reach his first grand slam semifinal at Flushing Meadow.
“Yeah that (Australian Open fourth round) was a great match last year. I lost it but it was a good start of the year for 2013 but I had a chance to get my revenge at US Open but lost in five sets,” Wawrinka said. “(Novak’s) quite strong, he’s been strong for many years now; so tough to beat him in grand slams. So I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on myself and what I’m doing.”
Despite a first-round blip at Wimbledon, where he fell to Hewitt, the signs were there, after his result at Melbourne Park and a quarterfinal showing at Roland Garros, that the Swiss player was due to make a deep run at a major.
He went on to make his World Tour Finals debut, joining compatriot Federer in the semifinals before again bowing to Djokovic.
Whether he is finally ready to take that next step up could well become apparent at Melbourne Park in the coming weeks.
“It’s going to be tough. It was already a big year for me reaching No.8, first time in London at the end of the year (World Tour Finals) so to get higher in the ranking, it’s really tough,” he said. “The only thing I can control is what I’m doing off the tennis matches, like practice, my schedule and that’s how I can improve and try to improve, then the results, we’ll see. (I) will take match after match and try to win each match that I can.
“I start really well winning the first title of my first tournament. It’s been a great week for me and I’m really happy with my off-season ... It’s going to be a good challenge next week for me for sure. I’m ready.”
Where some players bristle at being compared to an all-achieving compatriot, Wawrinka takes it all in his stride.
The admiration for his good friend – his Olympic gold medal-winning playing partner – is clear and any notion he is about to surpass Federer as the Swiss No.1 is quietly laid to rest.
“That’s not important at all. I will always be No.2 after Roger,” Wawrinka said. “He’s a top player, the greatest player ever and so I still think I’m lucky to be playing in the same time as him, so for me to be No.1 or No.2 doesn’t change.”
Swiss No.1 or not, things will change in a big way for Wawrinka should he find himself the last man standing on Rod Laver Arena on January 26.