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LONDON (Reuters) - Stanislas Wawrinka stepped out of the shadows at London's 02 Arena to make a dazzling debut in the ATP World Tour Finals on Monday and said taking the spotlight from fellow Swiss Roger Federer takes some getting used to.
The world number eight, who has spent his entire career looking up to 17-times grand slam champion Federer, enjoyed his best year so far to qualify for the year-ending showcase involving the top eight in the rankings for the first time.
The way he played in a 6-3 6-7(0) 6-3 Group A win over world number six Tomas Berdych on Monday was further proof the self-effacing Wawrinka belongs among the cream of the crop but he was typically modest after two hours 25 minutes on court.
"They wanted Roger and they had me," the 28-year-old, known as Stan, said of the noisy support he received from a large Swiss contingent in the stands, many of whom were hoping to watch six-times Tour Finals champion Federer in action when they bought their tickets for the opening day of the event.
What they got instead was another scintillating display from Wawrinka, widely thought of as Switzerland's 'other' tennis player, whose run to the U.S. Open semi-finals this year almost took him past Federer in the world rankings.
The tournament's first-day schedule lacked a blockbuster match involving Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal, but Wawrinka gave the 17,000 crowd plenty to remember in a confident performance laden with flair as well as power.
Few players are as easy on the eye as Wawrinka in full flow and, apart from a lapse in the second set tiebreak which he lost 7-0, he outshone the one-dimensional Berdych for long periods, beating the Czech for the third time in succession this year.
Having got a taste of the atmosphere, Wawrinka is hungry for more and not just here for the ride as Federer's deputy.
"I saw this tournament so many times on TV. To play was something different. For sure, special to win it, my first match here, was something really special for me," said Wawrinka, who partnered Federer to doubles gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"It's more about myself and my career. I feel really proud to be here. That means I'm playing amazing tennis, especially all the year. I had a great year. That's the most important thing," he told reporters.
"I'm not trying to compare myself to Roger. To try to be closer than him in the rankings. You know, that's my goal. But I'm really, really happy we are both in the tournament. I think it's something really special for Switzerland."
Federer begins his 12th consecutive World Tour Finals on Tuesday when he takes on Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Wawrinka will no doubt be sat in the 32-year-old's corner.
"He's a really close friend. We're not in the same group, so we can really enjoy playing here together," Wawrinka said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris