Tennis / wawrinka

If Anyone Can, Stan Can...
We are fast approaching the Australian Open with the first round starting in precisely a weeks time. There's just two small tournaments before then in Sydney and Auckland, neither of which feature any of the big players unsurprisingly given a week is not a long time to rest in the game of tennis. So forget seeing Nadal (other than the odd exhibition such as the one he played today with Raonic), Federer, Djokovic or even Andy Murray before Melbourne now. But setting those big names aside I was delighted to see Stan Wawrinka make a successful start to the new year in Doha where he claimed two victories in straight sets before bowing out to Bautista Agut in perhaps the best tournament the Spaniard has ever played. Wawrinka will be delighted that he got two solid games against difficult opponents under his belt where he looked very comfortable at the back of the court. Against both players we saw flashes of brilliance where the power house Swiss was playing the sort of the tennis that won him three grand slams in three years including the Australian Open in 2014. Given that he was unseeded for that tournament, he did very well dispatching of both players at the start of the year. His backhand produced countless winners to admire against Karen Khachanov and Nicolas Jarry, especially those screamers down the line so he will be going into Melbourne full of confidence believing he can make a run towards the final. Admittedly all eyes and expectations will be on Novak Djkokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. But out of the three it's Federer who has emerged the most impressive at the start of the new year. Whilst Djokovic looked wobbly in three matches at Doha including his Semi Final defeat to eventual champion Bautista Augt and Nadal looks suspect due to a lack of match fitness and a thigh strain, Federer had a stormer at the Hopman Cup. Stan's fellow countryman didn't drop a single set in his singles matches representing Switzerland he who lead to victory to claim a third Hopman Cup title. Apart from his match with Stefanos Tsitspas which went to two tight tie breaks, Federer destroyed the rest of the opposition with ease, including World Number 5 Alexander Zverev who has had the better of him on occasions in the past. He just looked head and shoulders above his opponents, shutting them down with far more consistent ground strokes off both wings than what he was producing at the end of last year and the sort of excellent forecourt tennis we have come accustom to in his later years. So whilst all eyes are on the Big 3 in Melbourne, Stan will happily play the guy lurking in the shadows and picking off players one by one with his rasping backhand. There is nothing like a fit and ready Wawrinka on court, he may not be the most consistent all the time but when he is on his game he is a joy to watch. His backhand is better than Federer's when it fires and his forehand isn't far behind. If he comes up against Federer in the opening Grand Slam of the year which he could well do even in the first round (given that he's unseeded due to his low ranking), that will perhaps be his stiffest test. There's little doubt Nadal has wiped him off the face of many courts (though not when they met in 2014 in Melbourne) but with his fitness in question and given Stan's recent victorious history over Djokovic it will be his fellow Swiss counterpart he will fear the most. His win over the 20 time Grand Slam winner at the French Open in the 2015 Quarter Finals where he would go on to claim the title defeating Djokovic in the final must feel like a distant memory now, given that since that unlikely moment he has lost all 5 head to heads with Roger. If I had to pick one weakness of Wawinka's game to date, it's his lack of initiative and comfort at coming forward to the net to volley home his dominant back-court strikes. Not closing off points sooner and getting too comfortable at the back is probably why he has only won 3 Grand Slams despite the talent he obviously possesses. Still I do believe he can go deep at Melbourne, if he gets to the QF's all bets are off regarding his chance of claiming his second title in Melbourne. Whilst Stan may not have a pretty record overall against the big 3, he has beaten all of them at-least once in a Grand Slam event including two slam final victories over Djokovic and 1 over Nadal. I will leave you with highlights of his journey to his Maiden Grand Slam and Australian Open title back in 2014 where in the final he absolutely obliterated Nadal over 4 sets.