In the second of a three-part series, Stan Wawrinka talks to rolandgarros.com about his journey to becoming a two-time Grand Slam champion.
The Stan behind the man: Part II
What does your success at Roland-Garros – your second at a Grand Slam after Melbourne a year earlier – mean to you?
It was a different feeling. Roland-Garros has always been special. It’s the Grand Slam tournament that I used to watch every afternoon as a boy. I watched so many matches on my TV, and then I won the juniors there. It was the only Grand Slam that I played as a junior and I won it.
And Roland-Garros is on clay, which has always been my surface. I grew up on it. Clay always reminds me of my childhood, playing every Wednesday with my brothers just five minutes from home, in the local village club around the corner. I only ever played on clay until I was 18. Winning at Roland-Garros really was a pinnacle in terms of achievement.
You were brought up on clay but ironically it took until you were into your 30s to really shine at Roland-Garros ...
Yes, it’s strange that I didn’t get to the quarter-finals here until 2013. Before that, I’d always played well at the French. Twice I lost to Roger in the fourth round, I lost to Tsonga as well ... I had good tournaments without ever taking it to the next level. It’s hard to explain, but I think that everything that I’ve done since 2013, everything I’ve achieved, all the confidence I’ve acquired little by little, wins over top players ... all that led to my win at the French Open.
What was it that changed between the Stan of 2008-2012 and the one in 2013-2015?
It’s difficult to point to an exact factor which completely changed. I finished in the top 20 in the world four years in a row, and made it into the top 10 for the first time. I was very happy with my career. It was already more than I could have imagined. I think that I simply managed to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place: physically, mentally, technically, handling the pressure, the nerves ... I managed to combine all these elements which come together when you play tennis, and I began to win the matches which I systematically used to lose against the top players in the world.
I won one, two, three matches and progressively, the confidence that I had built up anchored it all, and all those years of work, where I was putting in the effort in an attempt to get up to the next level without ever managing to do so, finally paid off. It was a little late, at the age of 29, but it paid off nevertheless. I can’t have any regrets and think "I could’ve been better earlier". It’s impossible. If I didn’t manage it earlier, it’s because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t as good as I am now, I had less experience ... Everything was a little sub-par. I needed all these years of work, experience, matches that I won, that I lost, to get to where I am now.
Your coaches all talk of the long learning processes that you went through, but also how definitive it was once you had taken everything on board ...
That’s right. I need time to assimilate things, but when I assimilate them, they’re there for good. You can see that in my career, which has progressed on levels. I’m also lucky enough to have always worked with the same fitness coach, Pierre Paganini. To my mind, he is the most important person in my career. He’s given me so much more than just physical fitness. He is part of the group of people who have helped me to map out my career and to think in the long term. It’s down to him in many respects that I am where I am today.