Stan Wawrinka went out in Rome last week, taken out in straight sets by American John Isner. Although the Swiss player has consistently won one clay tournament for much of his career, this year has been rife with disappointment, with surprise early round losses in Monte Carlo, Madrid, and now Rome.
The 32 year-old player never found his rhythm in the European clay run and is now looking towards the French Open, a grand slam tournament he won in 2015, in a surprise four sets victory over Novak Djokovic, who was in the midst of his dominant run.
For the past three years he’s reached at least the quarters in one of the three major clay events before the French Open. This year he will be arriving in Paris with poor results in all three, but we all know that when it comes to grand slams, it’s best to never count Stan the Man out.
Djokovic said so in his press conference in Rome, where he’s still in the draw. "Some top players come out and play their best when it's most needed, which is Grand Slams," Djokovic said "I wouldn't be surprised to see Wawrinka or Murray playing at a really high level in Paris because I guess they are aiming to do that." Nole ought to know, he would have equaled Rafael Nadal’s 14 grand slams if it weren’t for the Swiss pistol, who beat Djokovic two years in a row, in the 2015 French Open and last year’s US Open, both times in four sets.
The US Open final was the last grand slam final Djokovic appeared in so you can say that the world No. 3 effectively ended his dominant run. This year’s story has been about Nadal and Federer’s resurgent run after long hiatuses.
Wawrinka’s compatriot won the Australian Open in a riveting final at the beginning of the year. Before that, Nadal had played in the AO final in 2014 and lost also. Both times, the Spaniard was beaten by a Swiss player: this year it was Federer and in 2014 it was Wawrinka, in his first surprise victory that shocked the world, again in four sets.
In fact, of all the Big Four (or Five), Wawrinka’s record in grand slams is the best, he’s 3-3. Granted, he’s only made it to three finals, but we all know when he points his finger to his temple, his strength of will always sees him through.
Stan Wawrinka is never one to count out. He’s ranked No. 3 for a reason and though in his 30’s now, he’s a late bloomer, with all of his greatest achievements having come late into his career, starting at age 28.
Perhaps this year is just not his year for clay, but he’s shown great runs in the first half of the year on hard court, making the semi-finals in both Brisbane and the Australian grand slam, as well as the Indian Wells final.
In both Australia and California, he lost to his compatriot Federer. Stanimal doesn’t usually make much of an impact during grass season, never having won a grass title. Wimbledon is the only grand slam title he’s never collected, having not progressed past the quarter-finals in the tournament.
But once hard court season starts up again, Stan Wawrinka will likely be a strong factor again, at the Toronto and Cincinnati Masters 1000 events, and always comes alive at Flushing Meadows, where he made it to at least the quarters or semis before winning the grand slam tournament outright last year.
At the highest level, whoever is the dominant player, it never seems to phase Wawrinka once he makes it to the finals. He’s made it to the Australian Open semi and the Indian Wells final. We will likely see the 32 year-old break through again in the summer hard court season, if he doesn’t surprise many at the French Open.
Surprise is always a factor with Stan Wawrinka. That, and fearlessness. Let’s not count him out just yet.