As tennis fans all around the world prepare to embrace for the beginning of the prime tennis season this year, one question remains. Was Stanislas Wawrinka’s run to becoming the champion of the 2014 Australian Open merely a one-time event – or the beginning of a new trend for the veteran Swiss tennis player?
A Recap of Wawrinka’s Impressive Run in the Aussie Open
Wawrinka captured the championship at the Australian Open over a grueling two week battle filled with awe inspiring moments and revelations of sublime tennis. In the finals alone – the match was filled with a plethora of emotions from both Nadal and Wawrinka.
Although Nadal was injured, the match was still heavily contested by both players. In this stunning match, Wawrinka took home the title winning the match in a fantastic four setter, with the final score being 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Rekindling the Fire behind Wawrinka’s Tennis
Tennis is a unique game in which one is considered ‘old’ upon reaching their late 20’s and early 30’s. At 28 years of age, most commentators and tennis fans had begun to write off Wawrinka’s abilities to win a grand slam. In fact, most did not expect Wawrinka to produce the world class tennis that he showed at this year’s Australian Open tournament.
One might consider age to be a limiting factor to a player, due to the wear and tear on the body as the athlete ages. However, the extra amount of experience as a veteran on the tour allowed Wawrinka to seize the correct opportunities at the right moments against the injured Nadal.
While not aptly considered the underdog, Wawrinka was surely not the perceived contender to win the tournament – given his previous track record.
Excellence in Shot Selection & Court Positioning
Wawrinka is an all court player with no notable weaknesses in his game. While he doesn’t have the fire and enthusiasm of Nadal, nor the impeccable timing of Federer – what Wawrinka possesses is a very solid all-around game based around good high percentage shots.
It is clear that Wawrinka won’t be glazing the lines with pure winners, but what we can expect to see is the continued usage of sound court positioning and shot selection that allowed him to overcome Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open.
In fact, as a veteran tour player – players like Wawrinka quickly realize that without an abundance of foot speed – he will need to make up for it by using good shot selection.
Another aspect Wawrinka does really well is not giving up too much ground away to his opponents. While he doesn’t toe the line in the way that Agassi used to, Wawrinka uses a court position that allows him to play aggressive shots that take time away from his opponents.
Wawrinka’s Solid Ground Game
Even though Wawrinka’s shots aren’t spinning as heavily as Nadal’s or even Federer’s, he hits deep shots that penetrates and skids once it reaches his opponents side of the court. This usage of good depth and penetration limits his opponent’s ability to put him on the defensive on a consistent basis.
Wawrinka also has great hands at the net, which plays into his idea of being the aggressor in the point. This is likely due to his vast doubles experience on the tour, and as a veteran – he has learned the importance of possessing a good net game to finish points on his terms.
In pro tennis, miniscule improvement equals massive differences in results – because nearly all the players in the pro tour already have a solid game.
The difference that separates the top players in the world from those outside the top 10 is usually the mental and physical elements. I believe that Wawrinka lacked a strong mental game for many years, which prevented him from taking advantage of many more wins that he could have had under his belt.
Is Wawrinka’s Success Sustainable?
Some commentators and tennis players may wonder if Wawrinka’s success is sustainable in the long run. The bigger question remains: Is Wawrinka one shot pony who’s success was merely attributed to a great week and a half of subliminal tennis, or is this the beginning of a new breakthrough in Wawrinka’s game?
I believe that Wawrinka already had a world class game for many years, but the execution factor was missing. For unknown reasons to us, Wawrinka just could not pull out the wins in big matches – even though he had a game that was physically competent. As a result, Wawrinka played many good matches, but they were never great enough to beat the top players.
The top players in tennis such as Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have an innate ability to unleash their top performance when it is most required during a match. For example, we often see Federer hit a remarkable ace to save himself a break point down Love-40 only to recapture his service game to win the game.
This is essentially the ability that Wawrinka lacked for many years – the ability to perform at a supremely high level under pressure. It is difficult to develop this skill, and it is why only the best of the best can consistently dominate in the top 5 rankings.
Therefore, it remains a matter of whether or not Wawrinka can continue to maintain the same high level of play against players in the top 5. Certainly, it will be a challenging task in an environment where players at the top of the game are constantly hungry for wins and positive results.
In order to stay in the top 5, Wawrinka must carry over the positive momentum he gained by winning the Australian Open into his future matches throughout 2014 and beyond.
Looking forward, we can certainly see that as coaches and players – we must not rule out the veteran underdog for future grand slam events.
2014 may be a breakthrough year for Wawrinka, in which he may be able to overcome the limitations that he has faced in winning large grand slam tournaments.
This article was written by Coach Ed of Optimumtennis.net