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Stanislas Wawrinka

 

The surprise of being a first-time major winner is to be expected for a player forever in the shadow of a 17-time Grand Slam champion.

But for newly-crowned Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka, there is also a modest undercurrent of embarrassment after displacing Roger Federer as his country’s top-ranked player.

After becoming the first player since Sergei Bruguera in 1993 to beat the top two seeds on the way to a Grand Slam title, the 28-year-old also ended Federer’s 13-year-old reign as Switzerland’s No.1.

His win over Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s decider ensured he would climb to No.3 in the world behind only the Spaniard and Novak Djokovic.

How he stands to handle the newfound expectations and attention, which come hand in hand with Grand Slam glory, remains to be seen.

Wawrinka now becomes the hunted.

After a heartbreaking five-set loss to Djokovic in the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open in what many regard as among the greatest matches of the modern era, Wawrinka embarked on a watershed season, reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open before finishing the year at No.8 on the back of a semifinal showing at the World Tour Finals in London.

Much of his success can be attributed to a decision in April last year to employ the services of Swedish former No.2 Magnus Norman as his coach.

Where his movement, serve and forehand have improved markedly, the greatest attribute the Swede has brought to Wawrinka’s game is mental strength.

“I have more confidence on myself,” he said of hiring Norman. “I know that when I go on court I can beat almost everybody, even in the big stage.”

“Already last year I had the feeling that I was playing better, but I was dealing better the pressure also. I'm more mature. I'm 28 now. I'm on the tour since 10 years. Now I feel that it's my time to play my best tennis. I'm enjoying more what I'm doing, when I'm winning, and also maybe I know more how to deal with all the pressure around.”

When asked by ESPN after his Australian Open triumph if his goal now was to be No.1, the typically self-deprecating Wawrinka was quick to answer.

“No, absolutely not,” he said.

It was as if he would be embarrassed to be ranked above both Djokovic and Nadal, players he freely admits will beat him any day if they’re playing their best.

Norman is tasked with further convincing the Swiss he indeed belongs in the upper echelons.

He is the first man outside the big four to win a major since Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open, and the first man ever to beat Djokovic and Nadal in the same Grand Slam.

Coming into the match he had not managed to win a set, let alone a match, against Nadal in 12 previous meetings.

“It's quite crazy what's happening right now. I never expect to win a Grand Slam. I never dream about that because for me, I was not good enough to beat those guy,” he said.

“Before today, I always saying that except Roger, Rafa, Novak, you always lose, especially every week. So it's not easy because tennis life, when you lose, it's tough to get through and to take a positive from a lost, from failing from a tournament.”

In the past 20 years alone, Thomas Muster, Richard Krajicek, Petra Korda, Carlos Moya, Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Johansson, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick, Gaston Gaudio and Del Potro have failed to back up their Grand Slam breakthrough with a second major. Only del Potro remains in the hunt.

On the strength of a special Sunday night in Melbourne, Wawrinka is ready to step out of that company.

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Post-Tournament
Monday, 22 December 2014
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