French Open takeaways: Stan Wawrinka back in top form, cracks the Top 20



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French Open takeaways: Stan Wawrinka back in top form, cracks the Top 20

Stan Wawrinka is the mover of the week by shooting up to nine spaces back into the Top 20 of the ATP rankings. He achieved his best grand slam round after undergoing knee surgery and recovery time at the end of 2017. He got to his first final earlier this year at the Rotterdam Open earlier.

Is "Stan the Man" back? Judging by the gorgeous, powerhouse backhand-- his weapon of choice-- that he unleashed against nextgen sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas, a resounding 'yes' is the answer. "I think today was really special, and the match was amazing, five hours' match, five sets," said Wawrinka after the RG win over Tsitsipas.

"This kind of atmosphere, for sure, I enjoyed. I enjoy a lot. That's the reason why I still play tennis, and that's the reason why I'm practicing every day to try to win big matches like that. So for sure, when I'm on the court I try to enjoy and remember also everything I have done to be here."

The new world No. 19 thrilled the Roland Garros crowds with his resilient win over the Greek talent. The gutsy form that got Wawrinka to three slam titles was on full display as he fought his way through five gruelling sets against a much younger opponent than the 34-year-old.

But the surprise win reminded the tennis world why Wawrinka is such an unpredictable fighter: he achieves shock wins against all the odds. On paper, the match should have gone to the younger, healthier ATP player with momentum on his side, a recent clay win (Estoril), and two ATP titles this year.

However, it was the mental fortitude that Wawrinka displayed that demonstrated the nerveless confidence to see the win through. It's that mental cougar ability that pushes the three-time slam champion to always defy the odds.

In the time of the Big 3, very few men have been able to snap the occasional slam title. Stan Wawrinka has done it three times, and against them: once to Rafael Nadal for his first win at the 2014 Australian Open, and twice against world No.

1 Novak Djokovic at the 2015 French and 2016 U.S. Opens. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better" is the brilliant Samuel Beckett quote etched on his forearm. Wawrinka's ability to disarm his opponents got him the moniker "Stanimal."

You never know how far his mental belief will take him. This is why, at age 34, against all the odds, the 16-time ATP titlist has battled his way back from the brink. After achieving the zenith of world No. 3, Wawrinka lost to Nadal at the 2017 French Open, and fell out of the Top 250 after his double knee surgery.

He is yet to win a title in 2019, but Stan the Man has been making inroads all year, with quarterfinal appearances at Qatar, the Mexican Open, Madrid Open, and most impressively Roland Garros. He's clocked in imposing wins over top players Tsitsipas, Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov, and Karen Khachanov.

"I'm just happy for the guy that he's back after his knee problems," said compatriot Roger Federer, who defeated Wawrinka in the quarters at the French. "They were severe, and that's why I think he's really happy he got sort of a second life on tour because I think for a while there, he wasn't sure if he was ever going to come back again.

It's nice to see him pain-free and playing well." Grass season is next for Stan Wawrinka, his least successful surface. Of the 16 titles he's won on the ATP tour, they are almost evenly split between clay and hard court wins.

He is yet to achieve one on grass. Wimbledon remains the only slam he hasn't won, with two quarterfinals (2014-2015) his best showing there. However, there is a bright sign in the new hiring of coach Dani Vallverdu, Dimitrov's former coach, to help him get prepared for grass.

He has been added to the team, alongside coach Magnus Norman, with which the Swiss has achieved so much. At any rate, it's clear that a confident Stan Wawrinka is a dangerous prospect on the tour. Never count Stanimal out.