COMMENTARY | He's gone five great sets with Novak Djokovic twice in grand slam events this year.
He absolutely smoked Andy Murray in the 2013 U.S. Open quarterfinals, and he's risen to No. 8 in the world, the best ranking in his career. I believe if there's going to be a next big thing in men's tennis in 2014, it's going to be Stanislas Wawrinka.
Now, obviously, it won't be easy becoming the next big thing.
Since the French Open of 2005, there has only been one man not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray who has won one of the four grand slam tennis tournaments in a calendar year. That occurred in 2009, when Juan Martin del Potro upset Federer in the U.S. Open final.
That covers a total of 35 grand slam events. And if that del Potro victory seems like it happened long ago, it pretty much did. Sixteen grand slam events have passed since, all belonging to the Big Four.
But Stan Wawrinka has the game to do it. Actually, so does del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Except for del Potro's 2009 U.S. Open, none of them have stepped up in the big moments. By stepping up, we mean defeating two and perhaps even three of the top guys to win a slam title.
Like I said, it won't be easy for Stan. Murray had knocked at the door for years, losing four slam finals before finally breaking through last year to become the last big thing. He's now regarded as an equal challenger with Nadal and Djokovic entering any slam championship with the possible exception of the French Open, where he's only gotten as far as the semifinals once. Federer remains highly regarded out of deference to his 17 slam titles, the most in men's history. But at 32 years of age, his game appears to be in decline.
It's hard to separate any of these great players in terms of pure talent. It comes down to mental toughness and execution in the big moments. Self-belief is everything. You have to be able to stare down multiple-time grand slam champions with the greatest of titles and reputations on the line and know in your heart you're as good as they are.
Federer was the zenith for the first part of this century before Nadal stared him down. Then Djokovic overcame Nadal and Murray overcame Djokovic. It's gone back and forth, the grand slams being their personal playground since 2005 with the exception for that 2009 U.S. Open hiccup.
Rest assured, del Porto was magnificent in that hiccup and deserved the championship. He's struggled with injuries since and really hasn't regained his swagger of that tournament. Berdych and Tsonga have a history of wonderful matches against one great player, then not having much left for the next. There have been no consistent challengers other than Murray, who conquered his own doubts as well as his doubters to join what's been an exclusive club at the top.
We have to insert David Ferrer here. Ferrer is the rare exception, a guy who is all confidence but simply hasn't had enough game to get him to grand slam glory. He's an inspiration as far as how he's excelled on pure guts, guile and willpower. If he could bang like the big guys can bang, he'd be right there with the best of them.
Stan Wawrinka can bang with them. He has one of the best backhands you'll ever see. He's got a great serve and can play an all-court game. He's also been a guy who hasn't had enough belief in the past to carry him through in big moments. But those three slam matches this year with Djokovic and Murray represented a major step for him.
In Australia, Novak outlasted Stan 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7, 12-10 in a truly epic performance. Djokovic praised Wawrinka after the match, saying Stan could easily have won it. A case could easily be made that Stan should have won it. Wawrinka had Djokovic on the ropes at the U.S. Open as well. Novak won again 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Wawrinka's first appearance in a slam semifinal. You could see Stan physically struggling as that match wore on, taking a medical timeout in the fourth set. But he fought to the end and had some great chances, just as he did in Melbourne nine months earlier.
OK, so lots of good players have taken the big guys to the limit and come up short at the end. But Stan also hammered a big guy this year. He didn't just beat Andy Murray in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, he obliterated him. He pounded him off the court in straight sets. No one saw that coming. The fact that Stan went the limit with Djokovic in the following round in the biggest setting of his singles career is the validation he should need to know he's ready to take his best shot at the top.
Now is Stan Wawrinka's time. He's 28 years old. If he's going to be the next big thing, he'd better hurry up.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime tennis follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards.
- Sports & Recreation
- Andy Murray
- Novak Djokovic
- Stanislas Wawrinka
- Roger Federer
- Rafael Nadal
- Juan Martin del Potro
- grand slam events