Stan Wawrinka has been a late-bloomer. Not many, if any, people expected him to be the first new Grand Slam champion after 2013, despite Stan having broken back into the Top 10, and showing skills to challenge the best players. But he was able to take the step forward and beat the best players in the world to win the Australian Open title. Still, he couldn’t reach late stages with the consistency the Big Four used to do but his Monte Carlo title, World Tour Finals semifinal, and the performances in the victorious Davis Cup finals show he isn’t a one-hit wonder. When Stan plays his best tennis, he is one of the best players in the world.
But what to expect from him in 2015? He lost to Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament. Yet, while those two lost on the following week to weaker players, Stan won the Chennai tournament. While Chennai didn’t have the strongest field, winning without dropping a set is a good sign; he must be playing some consistent tennis. That is good to see after last year when he had some upset losses to players with low rankings.
One can wonder if his new status as a Grand Slam champion affected to his performances last year. In 2013 he didn’t win big titles but was more consistent than last year. After titles in Chennai and the Australian Open, he couldn’t play two good events in a row before the World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup final.
Now he is starting a tournament with maybe more pressure than ever. For the first time, he is defending a Grand Slam title. And those 2,000 points are very important for his ranking. It is very likely he will fall from the Top 4; even successfully defending the title doesn’t guarantee his retaining the ranking of No. 4. Failing to make the quarterfinals could see him falling out of the Top 10. And even making the semifinals doesn’t guarantee him staying in the Top 8, which would be important for the draws.
Having to deal with tougher draws can make this season a bit more difficult for him. But as the usual Big Four are facing strong contention from players like Nishikori and Cilic, it seems like a Top-4 seeding doesn’t anymore guarantee a safe quarterfinal. Staying in the Top 8 would still be important. Facing non-Top-8 players in quarterfinals would help a lot.
Then, what do I think he will achieve this year? I am pretty confident he will end the year in the Top 8, and his usual level is enough to take him into the quarterfinals or semifinals of a big event. Can he win a Slam or a Masters this year? I don’t know but surely he has the skills for that. Nobody can afford a bad day against a well-playing Wawrinka. And his Australian Open and Monte Carlo titles are proof he can play a big tournament without a bad day, something that is needed for a tournament win.
But what Wawrinka is missing to be a constant title favorite and a real contender for the No. 1 ranking is the ability to turn tight matches into his favor, something the very best players can do. So often last year, Stan couldn’t find a way to win when he faced adversity. And to win big titles, he must win matches like last year’s World Tour Finals semifinal against Federer, when he served for the match, yet ended up losing.
The surface where I think Stan has the best chance to win something big is hard courts. Clay may be his preferred surface and some of his best performances have happened on clay — for example, the Monte Carlo semifinal against Ferrer or the Davis Cup final against Tsonga. But I think he has better chances against Nadal’s or Djokovic’s defense in faster conditions. While Stan is more vulnerable on faster surfaces, he has a better chance to hit through best defenses on hard courts.
So, Top 8 is my expectation for Wawrinka in 2014. I believe he will make some semifinals in big events, and even big finals and titles are possible.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): Marianne Bevis