RG 19: improving Wawrinka looking to hit top form on clay

 - Simon Cambers

Age no barrier as Wawrinka tries to regain former glories

Stan Wawrinka peut-il réaliser une belle performance à Roland-Garros 2019 ?Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Stan Wawrinka turns 34 on Thursday, the kind of age when tennis players of generations past would have been long since retired, their rackets gathering dust. But advances in training methods, nutrition and racket technology, it seems mid-30s is almost the new mid-20s.

Six of the current men’s top 10 is aged 30 or more, the world No 1 Novak Djokovic will be 32 this year, No 2 Rafael Nadal is a year older and Roger Federer, who turns 38 in August, is still going strong.

As a Swiss growing up at the same time as Federer, Wawrinka’s early career progressed largely below the radar. But his time in Federer’s shadow allowed him to mature in his own time and that patience has been beneficial in the past two years as he has battled back from two significant knee operations, which cut him down in the middle of 2017, shortly after he had reached his second Roland Garros final.

His best form is around the corner

Having won a grand slam title in each of the three previous years, Wawrinka was a massive force at the top of the men’s game but anyone who saw the scar on his left knee, when he returned at the 2018 Australian Open, would have been left in no doubt as to the seriousness of the surgery.

Strong as an ox, Wawrinka has been patient since returning to the Tour. Finding himself unseeded in every tournament, he suffered some brutal draws. At the slams, he has struggled, but almost 16 months after he first came back, his ranking has climbed from outside the top 250 to its current mark of 37, testament to his sheer quality and dogged persistence.

At 34, Wawrinka could easily be forgiven if he decided his heart was no longer in it. With three slams, a Davis Cup title and 16 career titles under his belt, he has enjoyed an outstanding career. But Wawrinka is a fighter. His run to the final in Rotterdam in February showed his form is good; now, with the clay-court season about to begin, he believes his best form is around the corner, with Roland Garros the first big goal.

Federer, who knows Wawrinka better than most, expects him to hit top form sooner rather than later. “I think he knows, as well as I, that he's very, very close and it's just a matter of time until he's going to break through again” Federer said in Indian Wells, where he won their third-round battle in three sets.

Norman: "He can still beat anybody"

The return of Magnus Norman as his coach last April – six months after the pair split because the Swede needed to spend time with his young daughters – added welcome stability. Reaching the final in Rotterdam gave him added confidence and the Swede is in no doubt that he can make it all the way back to be a grand slam contender again.

Speaking to Tribune de Geneve earlier this year, Norman said Wawrinka has the will to succeed again. "On any given day, he can still beat anybody,” he said. “The question is, if he will manage to play well for more than 11 months, so that he can get back to the top. I am sure he will do it." 

"It's always about having confidence in yourself. But for him getting the old physical shape is even more important.

“We never speak about the ageStan lost almost a year (through) surgery. For me he is still on a comeback. He is motivated, he behaves in a professional way both on and off the court. I do not see signs that he may soon have enough of tennis"He knows he is getting older and so he needs to be smarter with his career, but especially with his body.”

If the body is strong, the mind is clearly still willing. On clay, with that bit of extra time to wind up his glorious one-handed backhand, he is likely to be a major threat. And if hecan hit the ground running in Monte Carlo next month, then come Roland Garros, he will believe that anything is possible. He’s done it before, after all.