Wawrinka Blossoms While Federer, His Friend and Countryman, Falters
By BEN ROTHENBERG
Published: September 5, 2013
MiniPeople.ch, a comic strip spoofing Swiss celebrities, on Wednesday showed a caped superhero, with “RF” on his chest, fleeing New York. In the final panel, he was replaced by a new hero: Iron Stan.
“Stan” referred to ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, who will face third-seeded Andy Murray, the defending champion, in the United States Open quarterfinals Thursday afternoon. “RF” was Roger Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam winner, who meekly exited the tournament Monday in the fourth round, falling in straight sets to Tommy Robredo.
For the first time in Wawrinka’s 35 career Grand Slam appearances, he has advanced further in the draw than his countryman Federer. It is the culmination of a year in which Wawrinka has climbed while Federer has faltered.
Wawrinka convincingly won his fourth-round match Tuesday, beating No. 5 Tomas Berdych in four sets.
“I feel this year for sure many things changed for me, and unfortunately Roger is not playing that great in this year, so that’s why it changed a little bit,” Wawrinka said. “But for me, Roger is a great, great friend, first, and he’s the best player ever on the tour so far. I just hope that he will come back stronger. I am playing great, I am the last Swiss guy, but I wish he was still playing, because I like when we play good in the same tournaments.”
Wawrinka said that having a giant of the sport on his side had been helpful.
“A lot of people for many years tell me, ‘Oh, you’re not lucky to have Roger in the same generation,’ ” Wawrinka said. “I always say no. I take the positives.”
He added: “When I arrived, I was young, so for sure I was a little bit behind him. For myself, as a shy guy, it was better. And then I had the chance to practice so many times with the No. 1 player, to have advice from him, to play Davis Cup, to play Olympics. So I can only be thankful for him, that’s for sure.”
Wawrinka and Federer won a gold medal in doubles for Switzerland at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Even in low moments, like the days since Federer’s defeat in this tournament, the two have remained in touch with text messages.
Those texts are meaningful for Wawrinka, but not as much as his communications via Skype with his 3-year-old daughter, Alexia, who remains in Europe with Wawrinka’s wife, Ilham.
“It’s not easy to travel with a kid, especially in the tennis world,” Wawrinka said. “I’m coming here early, I’m coming back late in the night, so I don’t see them too much.”
Wawrinka believes having a family has given him maturity, which has translated into a new level of focus and stability resulting in on-court success.
“I think this year what I do better is when I’m not having a good day, I still play good,” Wawrinka said. “In the past, when I had some bad days, I was playing really bad, and I was losing matches that I should win.”
In a fourth-round match at this year’s Australian Open, Wawrinka played his best but did not win. He led Novak Djokovic before falling, 12-10, in a memorable fifth set. Djokovic went on to win the tournament.
“I think for sure that match helped me for the rest of the year,” Wawrinka said, citing an increase in confidence.
He added: “When I was in the match, I knew I was playing the best player in the world, the best player on hardcourts, and he won the Australian Open there, and was playing the best tennis. And I was staying with him during five hours, playing the same level.”
Wawrinka acknowledged that the sport’s top tier, consisting of Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Rafael Nadal, remained tough to beat.
“I think it’s a fact that the top four won everything in the past many years,” Wawrinka said. “For me, even if this year Roger is struggling a little bit, before that they were much, much better than the rest. That’s for sure, and that’s not a question. We all knew that when they’re playing the best tennis, we have almost no chance.
“But I think that this year, or since a little bit, we have a few players that can break them.”