If Stan Wawrinka is to firmly establish himself within the newly-coined ‘big five’ of tennis as his counterpart Novak Djokovic suggests, the Swiss will need to back up his emphatic triumph at Flushing Meadows last week with victory at the St. Petersburg Open.
After falling a set behind in the US Open final, Wawrinka fashioned three hours of incredible tennis, hit 37 winners to Djokovic’s 23, and won three straight sets to vanquish his opponent.
Djokovic is arguably the greatest returner in the history of the sport, yet was unable to handle Wawrinka. He entered the match as the fresher competitor, requiring just nine hours of game time to reach the final, while his Swiss counterpart toiled in 18. But by the end of the match, it was the Serb who was struggling to keep up with the intensity.
Wawrinka beat the best when it mattered, but the 31-year-old is still reluctant to climb up on the podium alongside the bested Djokovic and the trio who constitute the so-called Big Four of the game.
He has beaten them all at some stage – his compatriot Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and, in two of his three major finals, the world No 1. His victory over Djokovic to win the US Open in four sets of sheer extraordinary desire and drive – his third major -, with just Wimbledon, left to conquer – surely gains him entry to the elite club.
In head-to-head matches against them, Wawrinka trails Djokovic 19-5, against Federer he is 18-3 down, Murray leads 9-7 while Nadal is 15-3, but the World No 3 has now won his past 11 finals, and another victory in Russia this month could cement his place amongst the elite.
Standing in Wawrinka’s way of a career-first St. Petersburg Open title are the likes of current champion and Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic, world No. 9 Tomas Berdych, and last year’s Russian Open finalist Joao Sousa.
Raonic, though, has had to withdraw from Canada’s Davis Cup tie against Chile due to “lingering effects of the cramping he experienced during his second-round match at the US Open last week,” and it remains to be seen whether or not the world No 6 will return to fitness in time to compete in St. Petersburg – an absence which, in particular, would represent a huge advantage for Wawrinka and his chances of adding another title to his locker.
He might never win Wimbledon to complete the full sweep of grand slam wins, but an ATP title in Russia, added to his Olympic doubles gold medal and Davis Cup title, will surely fuel the perception of Wawrinka as ranking alongside the best of his generation.