Today we take a look at Stan the man, the only person so far to have beaten each of the Big Four on the grand slam stage. This man is the reason for the label 'Big Four' to practically lose its meaning, the 'Big Five' would be more precise as more people are starting to clamor more. How did this man manage to get to where he is now? Who was he all along? In this article, we explore the journey of one of sports' greatest late bloomers, and have our own take on what we can learn from this.
An impressive debut year (2005)
Entering a grand slam for the first time at the age of 20, Stan the man lags far behind the other members of the Great Four when precociousness is concerned - Nadal, Djokovic and Federer played their first grand slam matches at the age of 17; for Murray it was 18. He however made up for this lag-behind with an impressive run in his very first tournament, beating the 22nd seed and Olympic Gold medalist Nicolas Massu in the first round; beating James Blake in the second round coming from two sets down, before losing in the third round to eventual runner-up Mariano Puerta. The signs of a future clay court master were there. The later part of his 2005 grand slam performance was not any flashier than his Rolland Garros debut, but still impressive for his age - he lost in the first round of Wimbledon to Fabrice Santoro in four sets, the US Open third round to Massu. He ended the year however, inside the top 50 and having reached his first ATP final at the Swiss Open. What a year for a debut! In fact it is arguable that Wawrinka's debut year is the most impressive relative to the other members of the Top Five!
First ATP title (2006)
2006 was another year of breakthroughs for the 21-year old Swiss. At the Croatia Open Umag Open, Stan Wawrinka claimed his first ATP title, interestingly defeating then fellow young stars Cilic and Del Portro en route to the finals, where the runner-up was ....Novak Djokovic (as clearly seen in the above picture)?! Winning an ATP title is by no means a noteworthy enough feat by itself, what is noteworthy is the winning of it at such a tender age and it's demonstration of the massive potential that would eventually push the player to much greater heights in the future.
First Masters Final and Top 10 Debut
2008 was the next significant year for Wawrinka when breakthroughs are concerned. He reached his first ATP Masters final of in Rome, losing to Djokovic again in the final and entering the ATP top 10 as a result. Further glory was to follow later in the summer, when in the Beijing Olympics, Wawrinka teamed up with Roger Federer in men's doubles to win the gold medal in mens' tennis doubles for Switzerland. En route to such, they beat (or rather upset) the favoured Americans Bob and Mike Bryan in the semifinals in straight sets!
If there were to be a turning point of a year in Wawrinka's career, it would be 2013. There was Wawrinka before 2013 and there was Wawrinka from 2013 and after. At that year's Australian Open, he made it to the fourth round. However, it was such dept of progression into the tournament per se that is impressive, it was the quality of the game he put up against Djokovic whom he lost to. The gruelling five-set thriller against Novak Djokovic was so close and saw Wawrinka having his share of up moments that it felt as if Djokovic won the match purely by dint of luck. It took place over just over five hours, and play reached an epic 22nd game in the fifth set. No one says better than the one who faced Wawrinka in this portentous match.
It definitely ranks right at the top. One of the longest, most interesting, and most exciting matches I have played in my career - Novak Djokovic (about the 2013 A0 match with Wawrinka)
Later in the year and in another breakthrough moment, Wawrinka reached his first grand-slam semi-final in the US Open championships, losing to Novak Djokovic once again in a five-sets blockbuster. En route to such match, he impressively defeated world No. 5 Tomáš Berdych in four sets in the fourth round and world No. 3 and defending champion Andy Murray in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
First Grand Slam title
In a second consecutive year of career breakthroughs, Wawrinka started 2014 with a bang, by winning his grand slam at the 2014 Australian Open championships. He beat Nadal in the final, which to be fair was quite a given given Nadal's apparent keen injury, and/or a major problem with a hand blister (if that was a problem) mid-way into the match. What was more noteworthy during his 2014 AO campaign was his 5 set victory over Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. In another epic that seemed alike as the 2013 fourth round match, Wawrinka edged over Djokovic 2-6 6-4 6- 3-6 9-7. As a result of the victory, Wawrinka for the first time in his career broke into the Top 5, becoming world No. 3, and ranked ahead of Federer in the ATP rankings for the first time.
2015 was a breakthrough year for Wawrinka in the sense that his achievements there established himself firmly as the Wawrinka that we know today. For one, he established himself as a consistent grand slam semi-finalist (with Wimbledon being an exception): he reached the semi-finals or beyond for three of the grand slams that year. Secondly but not least, he proved himself an excellent clay court player (in our opinion, the second-best after Nadal): he won the French Open 2015. Since then, Wawrinka has only maintained such level of performance, and continues to provide a source of hope for (current and potential) late bloomers in sport (or exercise).
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