Stanimal! Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland's working-class tennis hero
Known as much for his gritty tennis as for eventually crashing out to champion after making them sweat, Stanislas Wawrinka ousted Novak Djokovic from Australian Open in a marathon match - one that showed hard-work always pays.
If Roger Federer is the celebrated mascot of Swiss tennis, Stanislas Wawrinka has long been confined to being the second symbol. On Tuesday (January 21), all of that changed when the 28-year-old held his nerve to beat defending champion Novak Djokovic 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 in a five-set herculean battle.
Wawrinka matched Djokovic shot for shot and made the Serbian giant toil. Although he lost the first set 2-6, Wawrinka fought his way back in the next two to show that he had his eyes on a win and nothing less.
"I have to be ready to play another 12-10 in the fifth like last year," Djokovic had told reporters before the match. "I know that he's playing the tennis of his life in last 15 months. He is confident. You could feel that mentally when he comes to the court, he believes in himself more." And that's precisely how the match panned out. Interestingly just last year, Wawrinka had given up against Djokovic in a marathon five hour battle in the same venue but this year, there was no deja vu for him, his opponent or his fans.
If tennis followers thought beating Djokovic in the quarters was a one-off, Wawrinka answered that with a semi-final win over 7th seed big-serving Tomas Berdych to enter his maiden Grand Slam final.
In a head-to-head tally count, Djokovic had a 15-2 record against Wawrinka before their quarterfinal clash. Numbers though have never done true justice to the Swiss - who epitomizes hard-work, stamina and a genuine passion for the sport.
Known for his ferocious back-hand, legendary player John McEnroe once described Wawrinka as 'the man with the best one-handed backhand in the game today'. But it isn't something that he was born with.
Wawrinka took to tennis at an early age and such was his passion that he dropped out of school at 15 to better concentrate on the sport. He turned pro two years later, in 2002 and in just three years, the 6-foot player began searching for his place inside the top-50.
Currently ranked 8th in the world, Wawrinka has always shown full commitment and has tested champions and legends with equal intensity. For instance, he pushed seventh seed Ivan Ljubicic to four sets in the second round of the 2007 French Open before crashing out. In the same year, he reached the quarterfinal - his first in any Grand Slam - of the US Open.
While his best results in a Grand Slam are quarterfinals of Australian Open (2011, 2014) and French Open (2013), and semifinals of US Open (2013), Wawrinka is also a superb doubles player with a gold in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Wawrinka's fans though will now be praying for the deserving player to go the distance and add a singles Grand Slam title to his resume as well.