Stan Wawrinka joined the elite band of players who have won more than one Grand Slam title in Paris on Sunday, but he still believes he does not belong in the current top bracket.
That is the reserve of the so-called “Big Four” of men’s tennis comprising Roger Federer (17 Grand Slam titles, Rafael Nadal (14), Novak Djokovic (8) and Andy Murray (2), he said after defeating Djokovic in four sets in a superb French Open final.
It was his second Grand Slam title after last year’sAustralian Open breakthrough win and at 30-years-old he is clearly playing the best tennis of his life.
Still, he sees no reason to start talking about the “Big Five.”
“I’m not as good as they are.-I mean the Big Four. But I’m quite good enough to win two Grand Slam tournaments,” Wawrinka said.
“I can beat them in major tournaments, in a semi-final, in a final. But once again, the “Big Four” will always be the “Big Four.”
“I don’t want to be in comparison with them. I want to make progress and strides. I want to beat them. That’s all. It is as simple as that.”
Progress and strides, the Lausanne-based player certainly has made over the last few years from being a reasonably good journeyman, hidden in the giant shadow of legendary countryman Roger Federer, to a two-time Grand Slam champion.
It is something that is almost exclusively down to the hard work he has put in over the years and more recently his move to appoint Swede Magnus Norman as his coach.
“It’s quite strange when I tell myself that I have an (Olympic) gold medal, a Davis Cup win and I have two Grand Slams. Something quite amazing. Never expected to be that far in my career. Never expected to be that strong,” he said.
“We had a good talk with Magnus before the final. I was feeling really relaxed yesterday and this morning until maybe 15 minutes before going on to the court.
“Then I start to be really nervous and I start to tell myself, What is happening?
“I had a good talk (with Norman). He’s always confident with myself. He always finds good words to make me believe in myself and to go on the courts knowing and believing that I can beat the number one player in a Grand Slam final.”
Wawrinka, who lost in the first round at Roland Garros last year, had a strong start to the year, reaching the semi-finals in Melbourne once again and winning the title in Rotterdam.
But his form started to tail off in March and April just as reports emerged that his marriage was in difficulty.
A run into the Rome semi-finals boosted his confidence and he went from strength to strength in Paris, defeating second seed Federer in the last eight and home hope Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis before eclipsing Djokovic.
“It’s important when you’re an athlete that you can concentrate fully on what you are doing. You have to do some sacrifice. You have to work out. You have to be relaxed in your mind.
“That’s what I did so well. Since after Monaco I found the balance between when I’m on the court, when I’m doing tennis, I’m doing it 100 percent without anything outside.
“But I’m still surprised that in two months I can win the French Open, because I wasn’t in good shape after Monaco.
“It was a tough, tough moment for me. To say that now I won the French Open, it’s something completely crazy.”
The 30-year-old Swiss claimed a famous 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory to secure his second career major after the 2014 Australian Open.
It ended world number one Djokovic’s bid to become only the eighth man to secure a career Slam as he slumped to his third defeat in a Roland Garros final in four years.
Wawrinka became the oldest champion in Paris since Andres Gomez in 1990 after just his fourth win in 21 meetings against the Serb.
“It’s really hard to believe but it has finally happened,” said Wawrinka, who fired 60 winners past the Serb.
“It was the match of my life. But bravo to Novak, it’s a great challenge, the biggest one to play him.”
“It’s a special moment for me.”
Sunday’s shock defeat, meanwhile, was only Djokovic’s third in 44 outings in 2015 and ended his 28-match win streak.
It was also his eighth loss in 16 finals at the majors.
“It’s hard for me to speak right now,” said Djokovic who was in tears on the presentation podium.
“I’d like to say well done to Stan. He has a great heart and I have all respect for him. He is a deserving winner.”
“But I’d like to say I will be back next year and I will try again.”
Djokovic, playing in his 16th Grand Slam final to Wawrinka’s second, had the Swiss player under siege in the first set.
Eighth-seeded Wawrinka had to save break points in the opening game — which featured a 39-shot rally — and the fifth.
But the world number one broke through for a 4-3 lead when Wawrinka served up a double fault.
The battling 30-year-old Swiss saved two set points in the 10th game — one after a botched forehand put-away by Djokovic — and then carved out a first break opportunity.
That was swiftly saved and the Serb gobbled up the opener after 43 minutes, celebrating with a mighty, arena-shaking roar.
Wawrinka cranked up the forehand winners early in the second set but was unable to convert two break points in the fourth game as Djokovic’s renowned powers of recovery made him an intimidating target to pass.
Wawrinka saw another break point disappear in the sixth game.
In the eighth, it was the same story as Djokovic saved another break point causing Wawrinka to violently smash his racquet into the net in frustration.
But he wasn’t to be denied as Djokovic surrendered the set in the 10th game with a wild backhand, collecting a warning for destroying his racquet in the Paris clay.
Djokovic was playing for the third day in succession having needed five sets to beat Andy Murray in the semi-finals.
He looked suddenly jaded and unplugged, fighting off three break opportunities in the second game of the third set.
He dropped serve again to trail 4-2 and when he carved out a break point in the next game it was his first such morsel since the seventh game of the opener.
It was no surprise when Wawrinka wrapped up the set in the ninth game with Djokovic having no answer to his opponent’s lethal battery of down the line backhands and pinpoint accurate forehand winners.
Djokovic found a late lease of life for a break at 2-0 and held for 3-0 in the fourth set.
But back stormed Wawrinka, retrieving the break on the back of a 30-stroke rally before Djokovic saved two more break points to go to 4-3.
In a rollercoaster fourth set, the Swiss saved three break points in the eighth game and on the back of three of probably his finest ever backhands broke for 5-4.
And it was another textbook backhand that won him the title on a second match point.
Compatriot Roger Federer, the 2009 champion who lost in the quarter-finals to Wawrinka this year, tweeted simply: “CHAMP.” – Agence France-Presse