Stan Wawrinka's French Open title brings back the old debate about who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the elite in men's tennis.
For years, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were alone at the top. Then Novak Djokovic elbowed his way into the conversation. Soon enough, so did Andy Murray, forming what came to be known as the "Big 4."Now along comes Wawrinka, who surprised many by beating Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday. It gave the eighth-seeded Wawrinka his first championship at Roland Garros, and second at a major tournament.
Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka celebrates with the trophy. AFP PHOTO
He's still way behind Federer (17 Grand Slam trophies), Nadal (14) and Djokovic (eight), of course. But he did pull even with Murray at two, and it's also worthwhile to note the players Wawrinka beat to get his.It had been 21 years since someone eliminated the top two seeded men en route to a Grand Slam title until the 2014 Australian Open, where Wawrinka got past No. 2 Djokovic in the quarterfinals and No. 1 Nadal in the final.
Now Wawrinka has pulled that off twice in less than 18 months, because he did it again in Paris, beating No. 2 Federer in the quarterfinals before ending No. 1 Djokovic's 28-match winning streak in the final.
Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka reacts shortly before defeating Serbia's Novak Djokovic in the final. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
"I'm still convinced that I'm not as good as they are, because it's been 10 years that they have been around, and they have won everything. But I'm good enough to win two Grand Slam tournaments and to beat them at major tournaments," Wawrinka said Sunday night.
"In any case, the 'Big 4' will always be the 'Big 4,'" he added. "Do I want to compare myself with them? No. I just want to move forward, to improve and to beat them when I face them."
He was 0-12 against Nadal until the breakthrough in Melbourne. He was 2-16 against Federer until Tuesday. And he was 2-15 against Djokovic until taking two of their past four meetings.Maybe Wawrinka, now 30, is simply getting better with age.
Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka is applauded by ball boys and girls. AP Photo
"Stan has been working hard for years. And he is always trying to improve," said Severin Luthi, who has spent plenty of time around Wawrinka and Federer as Switzerland's Davis Cup captain. "This is a quality he shares with the best players, including Djokovic, Nadal or Roger."
The next challenge for Wawrinka is Wimbledon, the only major where he's never been past the quarterfinals.
Play begins at the All England Club on June 29, one week later than usual, providing more time for the transition from clay to grass.
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Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts as he poses with the trophy during the ceremony after being defeated by Stan Wawrinka. REUTERS Photo
Djokovic is ranked No. 1 by a large margin. He is 41-3 with a tour-high five titles this season. He's the defending champion at Wimbledon.
Still, one can't help but think Sunday's defeat will stick with him for a while. It was the third time in the last four years that he lost in the final in Paris. In 2012 and 2014, he was beaten by nine-time champion Nadal.
This year, he finally beat Nadal for the first time in seven tries at Roland Garros, but it was in the quarterfinals. Much like Nadal has said in the past, Wawrinka declared that he's sure Djokovic will one day win the French Open. His resolve is not likely to diminish.
Spain's Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd as he leaves the court following his defeat against Serbia's Novak Djokovic. AFP Photo
Nadal's 39-match French Open winning streak is over. Federer's loss to Wawrinka was his third exit in a row before the semifinals in Paris.
So are the owners of a combined 31 Grand Slam titles done chasing more? Doubtful, even if Federer is 33 and coming up on exactly three years since his last major trophy.
Nadal, who turned 29 the day he lost to Djokovic, has won only one major title away from Roland Garros since the end of 2010.
Serena Williams poses in the clockrooms with her dog chip next to the Suzanne Lenglen trophy following her victory over Czech Republic's Lucie Safarova. AFP Photo
With Djokovic falling short of becoming the first man since 1992 to win the Australian Open and French Open back-to-back, only one singles player still can chase a calendar-year Grand Slam: Serena Williams.
Her third French Open title raised her career total to 20 majors, including three in a row.
Not since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 had a woman done the Australian-French double, and now Williams can aim at becoming the first since Steffi Graf in 1988 - and fourth ever - to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in one season.