The very best of Stan ‘the man’ Wawrinka

hannahwilks in Features 28 Mar 2020
Stan Wawrinka is one of the biggest shotmakers in the sport (Leon Tanguy/MAXPPP)

He elevated himself mid-career from talented underachiever to legitimate threat to the biggest stars, and earned three Grand Slam titles in the process: Looking back at the biggest highlights of Stan Wawrinka’s brilliant career.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Wawrinka celebrates his 34th birthday today, and we’re celebrating in our own way by looking back at some of the best and biggest moments of Stan ‘the Man’s career.

Umag, 2006 – first ATP Tour title

A junior French Open champion in 2003, Wawrinka played his first ATP Tour main-draw matches the same year and broke into the top 100 in April 2005. He reached his first ATP Tour final in Gstaad, Switzerland, in July 2005, but lost to Gaston Gaudio.

Just over a year later, Wawrinka would win his first title at the Croatia Open in Umag, and he went through some notable names to get it: He faced a pair of wildcards named Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro on his way to the final, where he faced a certain Novak Djokovic, then ranked world no. 28 at the age of 19.

Wawrinka lifts his maiden ATP Tour trophy after beating Djokovic in the Umag final in 2006 (PA Images)

It was also the tournament where Wawrinka got his first win over Djokovic, who retired in the final. The two would go on to play on 24 more occasions, including in two Grand Slam finals, Wawrinka winning on both occasions.

Beijing, 2008 – Olympic gold

Wawrinka recorded several significant singles accomplishments through the 2008 season, breaking into the top 10 for the first time after reaching his first Masters 1000 Series final in Rome and reaching the fourth rounds of Wimbledon and the US Open.

But the big moment of that season which most tennis fans will remember is his run to the gold medal in men’s doubles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics alongside Roger Federer.

Federer and Wawrinka with their gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (Photo by Gouhier/Hahn/Nebinger/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Wawrinka was eliminated from the singles by Jurgen Melzer of Austria, while Federer was more surprisingly beaten by James Blake, but the two put together an excellent run in the doubles. Having defeated Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in the quarterfinals, they went on to upset the Bryan brothers in the semi-finals and defeated Simon Aspelin and Thomas Johansson to claim gold amid scenes of unfettered joy.

Monte Carlo Masters, 2009 – first win over Federer

The 2009 season was not a particularly strong one for Wawrinka, who dropped out of the top 20 over its course, but he did get his first victory over compatriot Federer at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

It was only the third meeting between the two, and the head-to-head between them has remained extremely dominated by Federer (who currently leads it 23-3). But it was a significant moment nonetheless with Wawrinka handing Federer his earliest defeat at a clay-court tournament since 2004.

Wawrinka scored his first victory over Federer at the 2009 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (PA Images)

After winning 6-4, 7-5 in heavy conditions on a rainy day, Wawrinka said:

‘It is maybe not the most spectacular tennis but it’s my most beautiful victory, yes. [But] I am a bit embarrassed to celebrate it.’

US Open, 2013 – first Grand Slam semi-final run

By the time 2013 rolled around, Wawrinka was fairly characterized in most people’s minds as a talented underachiever who could challenge the top players from time to time but fell short of the consistency, fitness and discipline required to do so consistently. He had made two Grand Slam quarterfinals but his ranking generally hovered between 15 and 30 and he had only won two 250 titles.

Things changed in 2013, and the first sign of that change was a five-set thriller Wawrinka played against Djokovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Wawrinka lost 10-12 in the fifth, but he had pushed Djokovic harder than anyone would have imagined. He went on to compile a nine-match winning streak on clay (snapped by Rafael Nadal in the final of the Madrid Masters) and reached the quarterfinals of the French Open, but it was in New York that he really showcased the improvements he had made since teaming up with Magnus Norman.

Wawrinka in action at the 2013 US Open (Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ABACAPRESS. COM)

After beating a trio of wily veterans – Ivo Karlovic, Radek Stepanek and Marcos Baghdatis – Wawrinka knocked out two top-five seeds, Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray, to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final. He lost to Djokovic in another five-set thriller, but he had served notice: There was more to come from Stan Wawrinka.

Australian Open, 2014 – first major title

It did not take long for that promise to be fulfilled as Wawrinka claimed his maiden major title at the Australian Open in January 2014.
Wawrinka avenged his two five-set defeats to Djokovic at majors in 2013 by defeating Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth in the quarterfinals in Melbourne, snapping the Serb’s 25-match winning streak at the Australian Open. With Wawrinka having blown the draw wide open, many expected Nadal – who had a 12-0 record against Wawrinka at the time – to capitalize and seize his second Australian Open title.

Wawrinka stunned Nadal in the final of the 2014 Australian Open (Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Instead it was Wawrinka who won the title, beating an injury-hampered Nadal in four sets and becoming the first major champion outside the ‘Big Four’ since Juan Martin del Potro won the US Open in 2009.

Monte Carlo, 2014 – first Masters 1000 Series title

Wawrinka’s banner 2014 season continued when he broke through to claim his first Masters 1000 Series title.

Wawrinka with the trophy at the 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Fittingly enough, it came at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where he had scored that first victory over Federer in 2009, and came via a win over Federer in the final – his first win since beating Federer at the same tournament in 2009, which snapped a 11-match run of defeats to his compatriot.

Davis Cup victory, 2014

The same season which saw Wawrinka claim his first Grand Slam title and first Masters 1000 Series title and move out from Federer’s shadow for the first time also saw him teaming up with his compatriot to bring the Davis Cup trophy home to Switzerland, something that had never been done before.

Federer and Wawrinka on their way to Davis Cup glory (Photo by Christian Liewig/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Federer and Wawrinka teamed up to beat a Djokovic-less Serbia in the first round, then partnered once again to bring Switzerland back from the brink of defeat against Kazakhstan in the quarterfinals before beating Italy 3-2. Facing France in Lille, just a few days after a well-publicised post-match spat at the ATP Finals, Wawrinka had to get Switzerland on the board with a singles win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before Federer suffered a surprise defeat to Gael Monfils.

The 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalists teamed up for a crucial doubles win to give Federer the chance to clinch the tie and the trophy with a win over Richard Gasquet in the reverse singles, which he duly did.

French Open, 2015 – the lucky shorts

Wawrinka started 2015 well, picking up titles in Chennai and Rotterdam in the first two months of the season and making a very solid attempt to defend his Australian Open title, losing to Djokovic in five sets in the semi-finals.

But he won back-to-back matches at just one of the seven tournaments he played between Rotterdam and Roland Garros (although he did beat Nadal on clay in Rome), so the superb run he produced in Paris didn’t quite come out of nowhere, but was a bit of a surprise.

Wawrinka with the French Open trophy in 2015 (Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Wawrinka scored the third victory of his career over Federer in the quarterfinals in a brutal display of power hitting, then went on to come back from a set down against Tsonga in the semi-finals. In the final, Djokovic – having defeated Nadal in the semi-finals – was expected to finally seize the career Grand Slam which had been his goal for so long. But Wawrinka had other plans, defeating the Serb 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 and lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires, all while wearing red-and-white checked shorts which were roundly mocked throughout the tournament.

Wawrinka draped a pair of the much-maligned shorts over the table at his post-final press conference and joked that they won the tournament. He still sports a lucky charm keychain on his racquet bag in the shape of his shorts.

US Open, 2016 – third major

For the third straight year, Wawrinka claimed a major title and did so by beating a member of the ‘Big Four’.

Wawrinka celebrates beating Djokovic in the final of the 2016 US Open (Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ABACAPRESS.COM)

After coming through 2009 champion del Potro and 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Wawrinka defeated Djokovic in a major final for the second time, showcasing his trademark pulverizing power and hitting through Djokovic’s defense as very few are able to do for a four-set victory and a third major title.

French Open, 2019 – first Grand Slam quarterfinal in two years

Wawrinka’s run of seasons with a major title came to an end in 2017, when he suffered his first defeat in a Grand Slam final at the hands of Nadal at the French Open.

Wawrinka only played two more matches after that, and shut down his season entirely after losing to Daniil Medvedev in the first round of Wimbledon, undergoing multiple knee surgeries in the back half of 2017.

Wawrinka returned to competition in January 2018 at the Australian Open, but he was clearly nothing like his former self, and the 2018 season was a real struggle, his ranking dropping as low as world no. 261 as he went 17-17.

Wawrinka celebrates reaching the quarterfinals of the 2019 French Open (Photo by Christian Liewig /ABACAPRESS.COM)

Inevitably questions were asked about whether Wawrinka would ever get back to something like his old self. But a resurgent season in 2019 at least partly answered that question, and one of its finest moments came at the French Open when Wawrinka defeated sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets in the fourth round, a brilliant match that ended 8-6 in the fifth set in Wawrinka’s favour.

Wawrinka went on to reach the quarterfinals of the US Open as well as the French Open and broke back into the world’s top 20, a season which promised that there’s still more to come from ‘the Man’.