Roger Federer won’t get many better chances to win the Monte Carlo Masters than yesterday but despite another missed opportunity to win a big title, he was his usual positive self when he addressed the media afterwards, sounding confident about his Roland Garros chances.
Federer’s previous three appearances in the Monte Carlo final were soundly snuffed out by Rafael Nadal but after the Spaniard suffered a shock quarter-final defeat to David Ferrer, he must have felt that his time in this small Mediterranean principality had finally come.
But after a promising start, he ultimately ended up on the wrong end of another sensational Wawrinka performance.
The Swiss has lit up the 2014 season with his brilliant shotmaking and Federer simply couldn’t match him in the end.
“As the match went on, he started to feel more and more comfortable,” Federer said.
“I struggled to put him under pressure enough. I think it was a bit of both him raising his game and me maybe going down a notch.”
The two players have been close friends, team-mates and doubles partners for over a decade and they know each other better than anyone else on the tour.
They even practised together ahead of the final and Federer said he felt that the match came down to Wawrinka simply executing his patterns of play more effectively over the final two sets.
“With Stan, we've practiced so much together and played each other also quite a lot, so I really know his patterns, he knows mine,” he explained.
“Very rarely can we really hit a clean winner like he did on match point. So many points end, in one of you outmaneuvering the other basically because you know the patterns so well. It’s the same when I play Novak, Rafa, or Murray.
Of course, they can surprise you to a degree, but it's more surprising when you play somebody for the first time.”
It’s been a year of firsts for Wawrinka. After qualifying for the World Tour Finals for the first time back in November he’s gone from strength to strength, beating Novak Djokovic over five sets on the way to the Australian Open title in January and now claiming his first Masters title.
He’s not the most natural of clay-courters despite the surface being extremely popular in Switzerland but he adapts to the dirt exceptionally well and the bounce suits his long, flowing strokes.
Federer said he felt his friend deserved it after coming close in Masters events in the past.
“I think it's one of those finals that I could have won,” he said.
“But Stan, you know, was tougher at the end. I think he deserved it just a little bit more. He really found his range in the third set and started to hit bigger, deeper. He didn't miss that many second serve returns anymore.
I'm very happy for Stan. It's a huge win for him after winning his first Grand Slam this year, also to win his first Masters 1000. To take the opportunities when they're there, that's key in a tennis player's career.”
However from Federer’s perspective, he hasn’t really taken his opportunities this year, despite performing markedly better than he did during 2013.
He won the Dubai title in February but wasn’t able to get over the line in Indian Wells, losing a nailbiter to Djokovic and now he’s missed out in another big final. You have to go back to August 2012 to find the last time he landed a really big title and he’s keen to end that drought.
“I would have loved to have won a second title because I've come close a few times,” he said.
“That's my next objective, that I get to the very end more frequently. But I'm happy that the clay court season has started so well for me.”
Federer appears to be volleying a lot more sharply this year, after looking unusually uncertain when coming forwards during a number of his losses in 2013, in particular the defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the French Open and his second round exit against Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon.
“I must say I feel actually quite confident and good at the net,” he said.
“I've definitely gone through phases as well in my career where I didn't just quite feel it. But now I think I'm choosing the right shots to come in on. I'm reading the plays well. I'm moving well at the net, even though on clay it's always a bit tricky with not having the grip so much like on the hard courts.
It’s something I definitely have to keep on doing.”
Federer revealed that he feels pretty tired after competing solidly for the past month with Monte Carlo following on from Indian Wells, Miami and Switzerland’s Davis Cup quarter-final against Kazakhstan.
Perhaps this match was simply one too many.
“I'm going back home because I need to recuperate,” he said. “I played with a lot of intensity during the past month and I'm happy that I can relax. I wasn't able to do that after the Davis Cup tie.
I feel that I'm tired. My body feels strange and I need to sleep. At the end of the third set, after the fifth day in a row of playing, I might have lacked that 2% that made a difference.”