The tattoo on Stanislas Wawrinka’s arm reads: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
It is a mark of the Swiss world No.8’s mindset in the past 12 months where, despite losing what many regard as the match of 2013, he was finally able to announce his presence at the Grand Slams, drawing confidence from the narrowest of defeats to pour his energy into improving once more.
That match was the fourth round of the Australian Open a year ago against then-world No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic, where the Swiss produced what would hold its place in the archives as some of the most sublime shot-making and fight seen on court all year.
He fell short 12-10 in the decider, but at the time called it the best match he had ever played.
“(It) was something different for me after that match, mentally. I realised that I was there, my level was there, and that I can play against the best player in the world, and after that I had some much better results,” he said.
Failed better, indeed.
It would not have been out of the ordinary for the defeat to sap Wawrinka’s once fragile confidence and send him spiralling back to another season of results beneath what his potential held in store. It could have taken him months to recover from that loss. Some players never recover.
Beating David Ferrer for a title in Portugal before nearly overturning a 0-12 head-to-head record against Rafael Nadal in the final of the Madrid Masters and reaching the French Open quarterfinals were promising signs, but a dismal first-round loss at Wimbledon to grass-loving Lleyton Hewitt had many critics nodding their head with a collective, “I told you so”.
The Wimbledon setback was a mere glitch in the 28-year-old’s fight to finally establish himself among the game’s best.
A career-best run at a Grand Slam followed at the US Open, where he defeated Tomas Berdych and completely outplayed defending champion Andy Murray to reach the semifinals for a rematch with Djokovic.
Again, the two would fight out one of the standout matches of 2013.
Under his coach, former world No.2 Magnus Norman, Wawrinka’s fitness and defence had improved since he tired at Melbourne Park earlier in the year, but again the Swiss would come up just short in five sets.
“(Novak’s) quite strong, he’s been strong for many years now; so tough to beat him in Grand Slams,” Wawrinka said this week.
That result in New York had many talking for a different reason.
Forever labelled his country’s second-best player behind Roger Federer, Wawrinka’s US Open run was the first time in 35 Grand Slam showings he had progressed further than his great compatriot and close friend.
"People in Switzerland are supporting me much more than they did in the past. That's normal. When you have Roger winning everything, then people think it's normal to win a Grand Slam and it's not,” he told The Independent last year.
“When you have someone who has won 17 Grand Slam titles, then they think it's nothing when someone reaches the semi-finals of a Masters 1000."
Wawrinka’s record against the three players to have dominated the majors in recent years is poor to say the least. He has beaten Federer just once in 14 attempts, Djokovic twice in 17 matches and has never emerged victorious against Nadal in 12 clashes.
It remains to be seen whether he can close the gap.
“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.
With a title run in Chennai coming in the lead-up to Australian Open 2014, Wawrinka enters the year’s first major with his maiden top-eight seeding in a Slam – and the chance to overtake Federer in the rankings for the first time is in sight.
Wawrinka now faces Spain's Tommy Robredo on Sunday night for a place in the quarterfinals.