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Is Stan Wawrinka gatecrashing the era’s top 4 players?

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The tennis world has recognised that the current game is dominated by the ‘Big 4’ on the men’s tour. Experts, commentators and past legends have sung their praises, crediting their consistency and ability to sweep the major tournaments and grand slams to leave the rest of the field in their wake. And, to be honest, it is true. In recent times, it has only been Juan Martin Del Potro, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka who have managed to make the breakthrough at the highest level to snatch a grand slam, but in terms of maintaining a strong challenge towards the immovable ‘big 4’, they have found it hard to replicate such form and results.

There is no better example than Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, who remarkably managed to win his first grand slam at the first time of asking in Melbourne in 2014, and then recently added to his list by the French Open triumph this year. The fact is that he managed to gate-crash Djokovic’s dream to add further status to the top 4 and continue to split the best from the rest in completing the career grand slam, which two of the big 4 have already done (Nadal and Federer). So, by toppling the world’s best players recently in Paris and in the past in that incredible run to the Australian Open title, has Stan Wawrinka gate-crashed the era’s top 4 players?

The short answer and current answer is yes. However, lets rewind back to Stan’s first breakthrough. On his unexpected journey to the Melbourne trophy in 2014, Wawrinka got the better of one top 4 member in outlasting Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Then, he followed his credentials up with an astonishing victory in the final over an injury-hampered Rafael Nadal. Technically, at that point, Stan had barged through the door that had been rarely let open by the big 4 at the majors, and as a result the talk of another player to add to the elite circle began. But so did the credibility of Wawrinka’s outstanding win in Australia. Whether Stan had really gate-crashed the top 4 party that had a grip over the slams divided opinion, with some feeling that the Swiss was very fortunate to face an injured big 4 member in Nadal, with the title on the line. Even up to this day, asterisks are still put by that win over the Spaniard in Melbourne.

To be fair to Wawrinka, he had been knocking on the door in 2013 as well, as his growing challenge towards the best players were underlined in his close marathons with Djokovic in Australia and the US Open, and a final appearance on the clay of Madrid. Even so, his incredible start to 2014 was eventually followed up on clay in Monte Carlo as he fought back from a set down to defeat his countryman and long standing member of the top 4, Roger Federer, in the final. If there was any confirmation needed of Wawrinka’s ability to upset the balance of power and display a serious challenge to the existence of the elite, then the 2014 results of Melbourne and Monte Carlo provides great evidence.

However, in between his two grand slam wins in 2014 and 2015, many could argue that this provides the answers as to why Wawrinka cannot be seriously considered as a player who has deeply impacted on the big 4. The top 4 in the men’s game have been revered for their consistency and the professional nature that they exhibit to perform day to day in the biggest tournaments, and how they are almost always able to find themselves at the latter stages of the biggest events. Wawrinka, fresh from his exploits in Melbourne in 2014, understandably dipped in form as he had to adjust to life being a new grand slam champion, and as the tennis world may have got carried away with Wawrinka’s stunning tennis to assume that he would conquer every major, a first round exit at the French Open and quarter-final loss at the US Open received a disappointing reaction. Following his victory in Monte Carlo, Wawrinka would fail to win another title in the same year.

So, in this respect, Stan’s consistency has tended to fluctuate between tournaments, and in fact underlines why he has been unable to muscle in on the big 4 party more often at the biggest tournaments. Also, Wawrinka’s game actually reflects his results in some ways as his aggressive hard hitting play has proved to be impenetrable against the very best (highlighted by the two grand slam victories), but when Wawrinka is slightly off his game, the unforced errors can quickly leak in and therefore he become more vulnerable to inconsistent results. Therefore, Stan has struggled at times to maintain pressure on the top 4 players in the world throughout the year, so some may feel that he has not well and truly ‘gate crashed’ the elite in terms of defeating them, and competing with them at the highest level day in, day out. Even the man himself was quick to point it out after his French Open victory, as Wawrinka said: “I’m not as strong as the big four – they are winning everything”.

However, he may not have been able to gate crash the top 4 consistently, but when Wawrinka has, he has also snatched away a piece of history and silverware away from the elite. Rafael Nadal was the overwhelming favourite to defeat the Swiss player in the 2014 Australian Open final and was gunning for his 14th grand slam to keep him in touching distance of Roger Federer’s record of 17 majors. Stan denied the Spaniard this achievement. Federer was looking to capture the title that had been missing in his resume when he faced Wawrinka in the Monte Carlo final. Stan ensured that the Masters 1000 event still eludes him.

Probably the most significant of all, Novak Djokovic, the world number 1, who came into this year’s Roland Garros riding a 28 match winning streak, looked to fulfil his main focus of capturing the French Open title that had eluded him, and complete a career grand slam to join the other greats who had accomplished this special feat. However, it was Wawrinka who stopped the Serbian this year spectacularly in four sets. As a result of capturing his first French Open crown, Wawrinka joined one of five active players who had won more than one grand slam. Strangely enough, four of them are indeed the big 4: Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray. Maybe this time Stan has truly gate-crashed the elite party after all?




French Open Novak Djokovic Rafael Nadal Roger Federer tennis

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