He had given it all he had. Stan Wawrinka made polite noises about taking up the sport wanting to be a tennis great holding the runners up trophy, referring to his vanquished rival Novak Djokovic.
On the way to the final of the US Open, he had overcome tough resistance, playing a five-setter in the third round against Daniel Evans and going on to beat both Kei Nishikori and Juan Martin del Potro in four sets each.
On top of it, in the gruelling final, against the guy with the best return of serve on the planet, Stan emerged the final man standing, even as the Djoker, often used to having the last laugh, hobbled between points nursing a foot injury.
“I am completely empty...It’s been a big battle on the court ... four hours,” Wawrinka said after defeating No. 1 ranked Novak Djokovic 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, as the crowd erupted in applause. “But I just want to remember what happened 15 years ago.”
The occasion couldn’t have been more poignant coming as it did on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He wasn’t the only one seeing the bigger picture after winning a personal duel in the sun.
American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, winner of the women’s doubles title with Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, choked up during her victory speech: “It’s a special day today here for everybody in New York,” she said.
At 31, Wawrinka is the oldest US Open champion since Ken Rosewall won it at the age of 35 in 1970. This was the forum where Wawrinka, considered a pugnacious street-fighter of a player, displayed his sensitivity towards the setting where he was playing in.
He may not have the flamboyance of a Rafael Nadal or the charm of Novak Djokovic, but trust him to give the best players in the world a fight they will remember. Most times, he comes out on top, outgunning the big guns. He did at the 2014 Australian Open beating Djokovic and Nadal and the next year at the French Open, taking out Federer and Djokovic in the final two hurdles.
If you want an insight into how the Swiss-German player (he holds a dual nationality) approaches his game and his life, take a closer look at his forearm: He has a tattoo in italic script that quotes Irish playwright Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
But Stan’s big-match temperament and doggedness are not the only traits that make him special. Wawrinka is the exponent of the lost art of the single-handed backhand.
People gawk at him bewildered when he plays it in one swift motion. It isn’t just fan-boys and the commoners who are impressed with it. During ESPN’s Wimbledon coverage in 2015, John McEnroe that brat who ruled the world with his wooden racquet, considered the best volleyer the game has seen, described it as the greatest shot in tennis history. Now Mac, as fans know him, was never known to give anybody a backhanded compliment. A few other good men, with a mean backhand, read Federer, Gasquet, Almagro and Tommy Hass, may disagree.
Follow the writer on Twitter at @Aasheesh74
From HT Brunch, September 12, 2016
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(with agency inputs)