x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

On verge of grand slam breakthrough, persistence pays off for Wawrinka

Swiss guaranteed to usurp Federer as country's No 1 regardless of result against Nadal

Stanislas Wawrinka is playing some of the best tennis of his career as he prepares to face Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open men's singles final. Petar Kujundzic / Reuters
Stanislas Wawrinka is playing some of the best tennis of his career as he prepares to face Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open men's singles final. Petar Kujundzic / Reuters

For all the progress that he has made on the tennis court in recent months, Stanislas Wawrinka is well aware of what his role will be when he takes to the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday to face world No 1 Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final.

The first-time grand slam finalist would have been a considerable underdog even without the one-sided nature of their head-to-head record.

Not only has Wawrinka never beaten Nadal in their 12 previous meetings, he has never taken a set off the Spaniard during those defeats.

Watching Nadal’s semi-final straight sets victory over his Swiss countryman Roger Federer would have only served to remind Wawrinka of what a formidable task he has ahead.

However, the eighth seed is taking comfort from the fact that three of his last four sets against Nadal have gone to tie-breakers, while he ended a similar losing streak against the world No 2 Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals as he put paid the Serbian’s three-year reign as champion in Melbourne.

“I think he’s playing some of his best tennis,” Wawrinka said of Nadal. “Especially when you have to play night session here, it’s a little bit slower. He can really play his game and try to play aggressive.

“I have played him so many times, lost so many times, but I’m going to try again. I know what I have to do: I know that I have to play aggressive, serve really well, and try to always push him.

“His game is quite tough for me, especially with my one-handed backhand. But I did have some good matches last year against him. I have found a few things that I will try tomorrow.

“I’m playing my best tennis here, physically I’m ready. I had two days off, so that’s perfect for me before the final. I’m going to try everything.

“Before beating Djokovic, it was the same. Just the fact that I’m always trying and I always think that I can change the statistics, that’s positive.”

It had been defeat, in five sets, to Djokovic in the US Open semi-final last September, that convinced Wawrinka that he was prepared to compete with, and beat, the top four in the men’s game – Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray, who have dominated the game in recent years.

Tattooed on Wawrinka’s left forearm are the words of Irish poet Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Wawrinka had lost 14 times in a row before finally triumphing over Djokovic.

“The match against Novak gave me a lot of confidence and showed me that I can play on a very high level in a very important match against one of the bug guys,” he said.

“After the [2013] semi-final at the US Open, I knew that I was close to be there. But it still was far away for me to make a final in a grand slam.

“It’s tough for me to have as a goal to make the final in a grand slam, especially with Novak, Rafa, Roger and Andy. I knew I had the level to beat the top players, but to be in the final you have to do it again and again.”

Both Wawrinka and Federer had been dreaming of a first all-Swiss grand slam final, and the latter’s defeat means he will drop to Swiss No 2.

Wawrinka is guaranteed to climb to world No 5 on Monday, when the new ATP rankings are published, and would move up to third by taking the title, while Federer will slide further to No 8.

“For sure, it would have been amazing to play Roger in the final,” Wawrinka said. “But I’m happy to play Rafa. He’s a really good friend. We practise a lot together. He’s an amazing champion.”

While plenty of attention in Melbourne has been placed on Federer’s new coaching relationship with Stefan Edberg, it is Wawrinka’s partnership with a less-heralded Swede that has been the catalyst for the 28 year old’s sudden improvement.

Wawrinka linked up with Magnus Norman, who guided his countryman Robin Soderling to two grand slam finals, last spring and has made the leap from dangerous outsider to grand slam challenger.

“We have a great relationship,” Wawrinka said. “He’s a great guy and a really good coach.

“He always wants more, so it’s great for me that I have someone behind me always trying to show me how to be a better player.

“I have more confidence in myself. I know that when I go on court I can beat almost everybody, even on the big stage.”