How Stan Wawrinka Thrives in an Era of Oligopoly

Stan Wawrinka’s career haul is pretty impressive

  • In 2008, Stan partnered with Roger Federer and won a gold medal in men’s doubles
  • In 2013, Stan pushed Novak Djokovic to 5 sets at both the Australian quarterfinal and US Open semifinal, after beating defending champion Andy Murray at the US Open
  • In 2014, he won the Australian Open and Monte Carlo while being a driving force behind Switzerland’s Davis Cup Triumph.
  • In 2015, Stan won Roland Garros
  • In 2016, Stan has to this point won the US Open as well as 3 other tournaments
  • All of Stan’s major titles have come after defeating the world #1 in the final!

So how has Stan managed this while playing in the era of the Big 4?

Magnus Norman has had an impact

Stan Desired to Get Better and Hired Great People

I remember watching court side as Stan Wawrkina lost to David Ferrer at Cincinnati 2009. Ferrer was using Spanish words that might make Andrew “Dice” Clay blush after every point he lost (I had a fluent Spanish speaker next to me during the match). Ferrer gave the impression that Wawrinka was not a worthy threat and the match played out as such.  I know Stan is younger than Ferrer, but how at 31 is Stan in the mix.

First, he hired Magnus Norman after Norman guided Robin Soderling to two Roland Garros finals that included upset wins over the defending champions in 2009 and 2010.  Stan nabbed a coach who as a player put together a workman like rise in 1999 that resulted in a really solid 2000 for Magnus Norman.  Magnus showed he could impart that knowledge as a coach.  Mats Wilander called Magnus Norman the best coach on the ATP Tour for Eurosport yesterday.  Stan hiring someone who could make him better likely meant Stan believed he could do better.  Norman’s theme of “Good to Great” really encapsulates Stan’s play from 2013-present.

Take cover!

Stan Works a Comparative Advantage: Blunt Force Power

In 2011, Stan Wawrinka clobbered Andy Roddick at the Australian Open.  Aside from Roddick’s serve, Stan was the more powerful player.  As compared to the big four, Stan’s serve does not produce as many free points as Roger Federer’s does.  His first serve is not obviously bigger than Andy Murray’s, but his second serve is far better than Murray’s.  Finally, his serve is an edge over Nadal and Djokovic.

Wawrinka is not Milos Raonic or John Isner though.  When he beats one of the big four, he is not simply riding his serve to a big result.  Stan hits a huge  backhand and can club forehands that have a numbing effect on an opponent.  When Stan is playing well, his power is coming at an opponent on almost every point of the match.  That makes Stan’s slice backhand and chipped service returns more effective because players back off a bit to brace for Stan’s power.

Stan’s power takes a toll across the course of a match.  In 2 of 3 set matches, the cumulative impact is not as great.  This may explain Stan’s sole Masters 1000 shield vs. his 3 major titles.  If Stan gets deep into a major, his error count is likely low due to him being dialed into the event.  If Stan is not missing much, 4 or 5 sets can break a player’s will to a degree.

Two paths to 3 majors

Stamina – No Puns Needed

Mats Wilander also mentioned that Stan can play without getting tired because while he can rally, he can also decide to end a rally at anytime.  He may lose the point with an error, but his power plays have a benefit of preserving his legs and lungs if a match includes a lot of draining points.  Stan going for broke is part of his overall strategy so he is not dodging taxing rallies when he puts a stop to them.  Also, Norman insisted that Stan get himself into premier shape when he took over as Stan’s coach.  A player who is in great shape and who can end points quickly is a player who can go the distance.



Stan admitted in his pre-match interview with Eurosport that he both acknowledged Djokovic’s superior skills and record AND was confident in his chances to win.  Stan knows that he is not across the board better than everyone on the planet, but he also knows he can win against anyone if he forces a match to be played on his terms.  Is Stan part of a “Big 5”?  He probably doesn’t care too much about the answer to that because his trophy case has a Big 3 plus a gold medal and Davis Cup.

In 2008, I figured this would probably be Stan’s career pinnacle


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