Stan Wawrinka joked that he was trying to show Roger Federer he was ready for the Davis Cup with his emphatic defeat of Tomas Berdych at the ATP World Tour Finals on Monday.
‘I try to show him [Federer] that I’m going to be ready for the final,’ Wawrinka teased after thoroughly destroying Berdych 6-1, 6-1 in less than an hour in his opening match at London’s o2 Arena, home of the ATP’s season-ending championships, one of the biggest events in men’s tennis.
Wawrinka may have been joking, but there was a kernel of truth in his quip. It’s rare that the Davis Cup final excites as much global interest as the ATP World Tour Finals, which are held the week before, but with Federer and Wawrinka teaming up for Switzerland – their country’s first appearance in a Davis Cup final since 1992, and surely the best chance they have ever had to win a first title – against a French line-up which could include Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon, the pressure is decidedly on.
And while Federer, who won the Shanghai Rolex Masters title a few weeks ago to bring his haul of titles for 2014 to five, has been on consistently good form throughout the year, Wawrinka’s season has been a story of extremes. Starting on a dizzying high with a 14-match winning streak which took him to the Chennai Open title and a shock first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open – something many believed he would never achieve – Wawrinka went on to win a first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo, defeating Federer in the final.
But since Monte Carlo – back in mid-April – Wawrinka has reached just one semifinal in 12 events, at Queen’s in June. And since falling to Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals of the US Open, Wawrinka is 2-4 in subsequent events with defeats to world no. 103 Tatsuma Ito in Tokyo and world no. 83 Mikhail Kukushkin in Basel particularly puzzling.
So the one-sidedness of Wawrinka’s victory over Berdych was a definite surprise, particularly as Wawrinka edged the head-to-head by a marginal but hardly definitive 9-7 coming into this match – and a welcome one where the Swiss are concerned.
‘I had, what, six wins against top 10 in the first three months of the year, then I never played them again because I lose early in the tournament, so it was a tough six months after,’ Wawrinka joked.
‘I think I showed from the beginning of the year, already from last year, that my level is there. When I feel good on the court, I’m ready to beat everybody. It’s never easy, but you have to fight for it. Normally when you play the top-10 guys, you are in the quarters or semifinals of a tournament. So the confidence is there. I’m feeling great mentally. That’s maybe one of the reasons.’
Moreover, Wawrinka’s win over Berdych is not just the most one-sided scoreline recorded at the ATP World Tour Finals since it moved to its present home at the o2 Arena in 2009 – it’s the most emphatic victory Wawrinka has ever recorded over a top-10 player.
‘I think I did play a really good match. And since the beginning, I start really well on my serve. […] At that moment he saw that I was taking the ball really early, seeing the ball really well, I was always putting him under pressure. He couldn’t really do anything except taking risks, and I was returning everything,’ Wawrinka said.
It’s only the first match of the round-robin stages for Wawrinka, who still has meetings with Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic to come, and it can’t be denied that Berdych played an astonishingly poor match – ‘my worst match of the whole season’, the Czech said.
Still, it’s a win both symptomatic of confidence and guaranteed to boost it ahead of the challenges that await Wawrinka in the next two weeks.