Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My view into the first half of Stan Wawrinka's 2014 season

Stan Wawrinka lost today on the first round of the French Open against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. That was a big disappointment since he is the World No. 3 and the winner of the season’s only Grand Slam event, Australian Open, as well as the Masters event on Monte Carlo’s clay courts.

Wawrinka’s season has been quite a rollercoaster. He started the season with a title in Chennai and after that he sensationally won the Australian Open defeating Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on his way. That title showed he can beat anybody in the World. He was the first player since Sergi Bruguera at the 1993 French Open to defeat the two top seeds in a Grand Slam tournament. Also, he was the first non-Big Four player since Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open to win a Grand Slam tournament. He is a bit similar player to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, he has an offensive game with heavy groundstrokes. But why have those two never won a slam and Stan has? I think a reason is that Stan is more consistent from the baseline; he won’t commit as many errors in long rallies against the great defences of the likes of Nadal and Djokovic.

After the Australian Open, there were high expectations on Wawrinka, even though some people were also wondering if he is only a one-tournament wonder. He played in the Davis Cup first round in Serbia in the weekend after the Australian Open where he had trouble in beating Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic. After that weekend, he didn’t play before the Masters event in Indian Wells. He started the tournament promisingly but his run ended against Kevin Anderson on the round of 16. He didn’t make it any further in the following Masters event in Miami where he lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov. After Miami, Stan played in the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Switzerland. He wasn’t too impressive in that tie, he lost his first singles rubber to Kazakhstan’s Andrey Golubev and with Roger Federer, they lost the doubles rubber against Andrey Golubev and Aleksandr Nedovesov. He won one rubber that weekend, the must-win fourth rubber against Mikhail Kukushin.

After those weak performances, more people were asking if he can really challenge the top players on a constant basis. Two weeks after that difficult Davis Cup weekend, Stan showed he isn’t a one-tournament wonder as he won the Masters event on clay in Monte Carlo. He dropped only one set in that tournament, in the final against Federer. Especially his semifinal performance against David Ferrer, who had just beaten Nadal, was very impressive. It seemed like he could be one of the biggest favourites for the French Open, Djokovic had a wrist injury, Nadal was off-form, and he had just beaten Federer and Ferrer.

As Stan was playing so well, he dropped the 250-point event of Oeiras from his schedule and his next event was the Masters event of Madrid. There he lost his first match against the young talent Dominic Thiem, after winning the first set 6-1. In the following week in a Masters in Rome, he made it to the round of 16 where he lost to Tommy Haas. After the title in Monte Carlo, his results from Madrid and Rome weren’t what was expected. He had some back issues but this started to remind of the time of Indian Wells and Miami. After a big title, he couldn’t live up to expectations. But after some worse performances, he could bounce back in Monte Carlo. Could he do it again, this time at Roland Garros?

Well, he couldn’t. He started his first round match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez well and in the fourth game, he broke into a 3*-1 lead. But after that, things started to go wrong for Stan. Right in the next game, Garcia-Lopez broke back and in Stan’s next service game, he broke into a 4*-3 lead. Stan had started making lots of errors. That is how the match went forward. Garcia-Lopez won the first set. In the second set, Stan had again a lead of a break but lost it later. In the end, Stan could break to win the set 7-5 but right in the first game of the third set, Garcia-Lopez broke. Stan couldn’t reduce errors and he was getting desperate. After a hold to 2-3* in the third set, Stan couldn’t win any more games, Garcia-Lopez won the third set 6-2 and the fourth set 6-0.

So, what went wrong with Stan at the French Open? Why are his three titles his only tournaments this year where he has made it past the round of 16? If we exclude the big titles from the Australian Open and Monte Carlo, he was having a better season a year ago. He was more consistent back then.

I think he isn’t used to his new status as a Grand Slam champion. There is nothing wrong with his game; he was awesome in Monte Carlo. But it all comes to down to if he can play his best game. Maybe he is floating after all his success this year and taking matches too easily. Then if things don’t go his way, he will get desperate. I think that is what happened today. After being unable to hold his serve after getting a break, he started making errors and was unable to get his game together for the rest of the match. Then, as he couldn’t get the match back on track, in the last one and a half sets, despair took over.

I think he had too high expectations for the French Open. He had won a slam this year and he had shown in Monte Carlo that he can win a big clay tournament. He forgot to concentrate on the game; he expected wins to come more easily. I think the same happened already after the Australian Open. He had high expectations for the American Masters events and he failed to live up to those expectations. I think those bad results helped him to get the right mentality for Monte Carlo. He knew there are no easy wins. I hope today’s loss makes the same. I believe today’s loss brings him down to earth, concentrating fully on the game, expecting no easy wins. And if he enters another slam with as high expectations, I believe he will be able to handle those expectations better.

But what to expect from Wawrinka in the future? Can he win more big titles, can he win even another slam?

I believe he will bounce back. He has shown in last one and a half years so many times that he has the skills to challenge and beat anybody on the tour. I expect good results from him in the second half of the season. The grass season may be difficult for him; he has never been excellent on grass. Given his great performances at the Australian Open and Monte Carlo, I believe he will still win big titles. He can even win another slam. I fancy his chances in the hardcourt slams. Clay may be his preferred surface but I think a medium paced surface like hardcourt suits him best against the likes of Djokovic and Nadal. Hard courts aren’t too fast for Stan but they enable him to hit through the best defences. But he is already 29. He won’t have many chances to win big titles. If he is to win another slam, I think he must do it within the next two years.

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