PARIS (Reuters) - The man known as “Stanimal” will be eager to prey on his rivals when he turns up as a bonafide member of the grand slam winner’s club at next week’s ATP World Tour Finals.
Just how lethal Stanislas Wawrinka can be on a tennis court was clear for all to see when he ferociously clawed Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal into submission to win his debut grand slam title at January’s Australian Open -- thus becoming the first man in 21 years to beat the top two seeds at a major.
He followed that run by toppling his most “fearsome rival”, Roger Federer, on red dirt in the Monte Carlo Masters final -- but since then Wawrinka appears to have lost some of his killer instinct.
Fans of the softly-spoken Swiss have been left wondering just which version of the world number four will turn up in London. The player who can boast of being the only man in 2014 to have beaten each of tennis’ ‘Big Three’ or the player who recently failed to win a single match at three successive tournaments?
“I wouldn’t change my year for anything in the world. I won a grand slam, I won a Masters 1000, made quarters at Wimbledon, made quarters at U.S. Open, I’m number four in the world so I’m really, really happy with the year that I’ve had,” Wawrinka told Reuters in an interview in the run up to the season-finale.
”When you win a grand slam, you become a part of the history of tennis, I became a top four (player) in the world and it’s now a different approach when you go to a tournament. People expect you to go further in the tournament and win more matches.
“My goal at the start of the year was to qualify (for the ATP Finals)... I’m really happy that I made it for a second year in a row.”
Being a grand slam champion has not changed the tennis philosophy he has always lived by -- a Samuel Beckett mantra that is inked in italics on his left forearm: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’
Rolling up the sleeves of his grey, hooded jacket to show off the tattoo, he added: ”Australia was my first grand slam final and I did enjoy the battle against Rafa and the battle with myself too.
”To realize I was close to winning a grand slam... to try and focus on the match and not get distracted by what’s going to happen after (the match is finished).
“It’s important to enjoy the fight on court, the way that you need to find solutions to win matches.”
Wawrinka will need to find a solution quickly if he is to match his 2013 semi-final showing in London, especially after his recent capitulations against 103-ranked Tatsuma Ito in Tokyo and world number 84 Mikhail Kukushkin on home soil in Basel.
Wawrinka’s unexpected triumph in Melbourne raised hopes that the decade-long stranglehold Nadal, Federer and Djokovic had enjoyed at the slams might finally be ending.
Nadal and Djokovic held off the chasing pack at Roland Garros and Wimbledon respectively but when Croatia’s Marin Cilic captured the U.S. Open, it marked the first time since 2003 that the Big Three did not win at least three of the four majors in a single season.
Has that made tennis more exciting?
“I don’t know but I am excited to be part of that four, that’s for sure,” Wawrinka said laughing.
”The fans like it when there is a different winner but they also don’t like it when the Big Three lose before the semi-finals.
“Just the fact that I have a grand slam trophy at home, for me that’s really amazing because every tennis player dreams of winning a grand slam one day,” added Wawrinka, who keeps his replica Norman Brookes trophy away from prying eyes in a safe.
“You don’t see so many different players (winning the majors), especially in the past 10 years, so it’s a great feeling.”
As Wawrinka gears up for the final few weeks of a hectic and exhausting season, during which he will also team up with Federer for Switzerland’s Davis Cup final against France, the 29-year-old would like nothing better than to add to his haul of seven trophies before the year is out.
“I have a grand slam and a Masters 1000 but if you look at my career, I don’t have many trophies, I still want to win more tournaments. It’s not my goal to win one specific grand slam over the others, I just want to do the best I can.”
The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals will be held at The O2 from Nov 9-16.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Julien Pretot