"Stan Wawrinka is the most exciting player around at the moment." Little did Mats Wilander know that his words, spoken at the start of the fortnight, would turn out to be so prophetic. The Swiss was not world No.1. He had not won the last seven major tournaments (Grand Slams, World Tour Finals, ATP Masters 1000) that he had entered. He did not possess an aura of invincibility born of only losing two matches since the previous autumn. No, Stan Wawrinka was not Novak Djokovic. But Stan Wawrinka was the perfect storm, the one player capable of annoying the "Big Four", winning the Australian Open despite the presence of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. And he alone would prove to be capable of bringing an end to the incredible run that Djokovic had been on for the past number of months. On Sunday 7 June, on Philippe-Chatrier Court at Roland-Garros, Wawrinka deprived the Serb of the one Grand Slam he had yet to conquer, winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in 3 hours and 12 minutes. The Swiss has "only" made it to the two finals of two majors in his career – the Australian Open in 2014 and Roland-Garros in 2015. But he is a two-time Grand Slam winner. Mr 100%, Mr 100,000 volts.
Stan Wawrinka learned how to become a champion the hard way, as he himself has explained in many an interview since achieving greatness. He is not one of those prodigies destined to revolutionise the sport from an early age, but he worked hard, picking himself up over and over again. He worked on his tennis, and above all on the mental side of his game. He worked until he was capable of pulling off incredible winners on break, set and even match points – the higher the stakes, the better the shots. Roland-Garros 2015 was his first Grand Slam final in Paris and just his second overall, but he was far from overawed, as the “winners” column attested by the end of the match. 60, in four sets! "The little bison", as Henri Leconte called him, hit hard, and outdid Novak Djokovic two to one, the Serb managing a mere 30 winners.
And yet, the world No.1 got the final off to a perfect start. He was accurate, solid and compact, not to mention elastic, as he seemed capable of hitting hard and deep even when off balance. Djokovic forced Wawrinka to over-rev his engine in the opening set which the Serb pocketed 6-4, cruising to service holds throughout while the Swiss struggled each time it was his turn. But then things began to slide for Djokovic in his bid to win the only Grand Slam tournament to elude him and join the select band of seven players throughout history, from Fred Perry through to his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Perhaps it was the sheer weight of History with a capital "H" that caught up with the Serb. Or maybe the weight of the balls that Wawrinka began to fire back. The man from Lausanne was putting tremendous speed into his shots on both wings, while he also stepped up on service and began to dominate at the net. Suddenly, his game was wholly without weakness. And then he found a real spark and started to light up the winners column, leaving Djokovic with no answer, 6-4 Wawrinka in the second set, 6-3 Wawrinka in the third... The die was cast.
Wawrinka - Djokovic, the highlights:
Wawrinka: "This was the greatest match of my life! I’m still shaking"
The Serb was not the greatest player of the first half of the decade for nothing, however, and in the fourth stanza, he hung tough – so much so that he broke to lead 3-0. Back came Wawrinka in a flash to level matters at 3-3. Stan the Man was dominating the rallies, so the Djoker looked to come into the net. These tactics paid off for one game, but no more. Wawrinka then broke, and would serve for the match and the French Open title.
At this crucial juncture in his career, Wawrinka once against demonstrated that he had forged nerves of steel. On his first match point it looked for all the world that he had finished off in style with an ace, only to hear a cry of "out". Djokovic won the ensuing rally to take the game to deuce, but "Iron Stan" then carved out a second match point. And after a beautifully fluid and accelerated backhand down the line, Wawrinka won his maiden French Open and second Grand Slam title. "This was the greatest match of my life! I’m still shaking," he gasped to the crowd who had been on his side throughout, despite the fact that he had put the French team to the sword just six months earlier in the final of the Davis Cup.
Having defeated nine-time Roland-Garros winner Nadal in the quarter-final, Djokovic had seemingly earned a French Open title after coming up short in the final on two occasions, in 2012 and 2014. But sport is not always fair, and the trophy that he has had a close eye on since 2007 once again eluded his grasp. This particular Sunday belonged to another man. Since 1993 – Sergi Bruguera, at Roland-Garros, as it happens –, only one player has managed to win a Grand Slam by beating the world No.1 and No.2 en route. And this player has done it twice – at Melbourne and Paris. His name? Stan Wawrinka.