On The Rise... Stanislas Wawrinka
Roland Garros 2008
If you have to be an understudy on Broadway, it's best if it be to the lead actor in Phantom of the Opera. In tennis, if you have to be in the shadow of your countryman, then it may as well be Roger Federer. Chances are, you'll eventually get your moment to shine.
Playing second fiddle to Roger Federer throughout his career, Swiss No. 2 Stanislas Wawrinka's steady progress has generated relatively little fanfare in the media. But now the 23-year-old is getting his due as the newest member of the South African Airways Rankings Top 10 after reaching his first ATP Masters Series final in Rome. Wawrinka soared from No. 24 to No. 10 after his runner-up effort and joined Federer as the first Swiss men to rank in the Top 10 at the same time.
"I'm very proud and excited about the fact that there are two Swiss players in the Top 10 now," said Wawrinka. "That's something very special for a small country like Switzerland with only seven million people. We get along very well and that's twice as much satisfaction to be two Swiss players in the Top 10."
Wawrinka himself didn't expect such a big jump so quickly.
"Yeah, it's true I was a bit surprised. It's a big step to move from 24 to 10 during one tournament," he said. "That doesn't happen very often… I was a bit surprised."
Wawrinka enters Roland Garros for the fourth time with a 23-11 match record on the season and two runner-up showings (Doha, Rome). He also advanced to the semifinals in Barcelona the week before Rome and the quarterfinals in March at ATP Masters Series Indian Wells.
He's also posted a 4-3 mark against Top 10 opponents, defeating No. 10 Tomas Berdych in Indian Wells, No. 7 David Nalbandian in Barcelona and the top two Americans of No. 6 Andy Roddick (retired) and No. 8 James Blake in Rome.
"I'm very pleased with my results lately," said Wawrinka, who finished last year No. 36. "Reaching the Top 10 has been a dream since I was a little child. I think all tennis players dream about that. Of course the attention of the media and the public is part of it. You have to accept and manage it."
Practising and getting guidance from Federer has helped Wawrinka's progress over the past three years in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. He finished in the Top 100 for the first time three years ago at No. 55 and two years ago was a year-end best No. 30.
"Roger is one of my closest friends on the tour and he always gives me some precious advice. He was very happy for me after Rome," said Wawrinka. "He's the best tennis player ever and it's great to be close to him, to spend time with him."
Federer said, "Now that Stan has been playing very, very well, it's great for him. It's great for our country having again such a good player in the Top 10 after having (Martina) Hingis and (Marc) Rosset and (Jakob) Hlasek and myself, having really the next guy, who is an excellent player."
Wawrinka has experienced his ups and downs in the past 15 months. In February 2007, he underwent right knee surgery after injuring his knee while practising for a first-round Davis Cup tie. When he returned in May, he struggled with a 3-11 record before turning things around with a runner-up effort in Stuttgart (l. to Nadal) in July.
"It was very tough, especially for the first few weeks when I was lying in bed with my leg up," he said. "That's very hard, because I love tennis, I love to move and to run around. You start asking yourself a lot of question when you have surgery. Are you going to come back? Are you going to reach your old level? Once you get back you are very motivated, you spend 10 hours a day in the gym in order to come back. All your focus is on getting your form back."
Upon his return, Wawrinka made improvement on hard courts by reaching the fourth round at the US Open (l. to Chela in five sets), his best Grand Slam result, and he advanced to the final in Vienna in October (l. to Djokovic).
Since he started playing international tournaments as a teenager, winning the Roland Garros junior title in 2003 and his first ATP title in 2006 in Umag, Wawrinka considers clay his best surface.
"It's true, clay has always been my favorite surface and I enjoy playing on it a lot," he said. "But I also started playing well on other surfaces, indoor as well as on outdoor hard. I don't have any problems with playing on other surfaces."
Wawrinka began playing tennis at age eight in the town of St. Barthelemy (10 minutes outside Lausanne), where he met his present coach Dimitri Zavialoff. Wawrinka lived there until he was 16. After that he began traveling more and more, spending a lot of time in Spain. He practises with Zavialoff in Lausanne or in Geneva, where he has an apartment.
"He has formed me as a player, teaching me the technique," said Wawrinka. "I've always worked with him and we have made a lot of progress together. We are still together and it's going very well."
Wawrinka's father, Wolfram, is German, and mother, Isabelle, is Swiss. His grandfather from his father's side is Czech and they were living on the Poland border, giving him a Polish surname.
His parents have an organic farm where they work with handicapped people, producing vegetables, cereals and other foods.
Wawrinka is the second-oldest in the family behind brother Jonathan, a tennis instructor, and younger sisters Djanaee and Naella, who play recreationally.
While Wawrinka has put himself into contention for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in November, he isn't looking too far ahead.
"You need a lot of points to get there and I still need to win many more matches," he said. "Being a Top 10 player now people start talking about the Masters Cup. If one day two Swiss would qualify that would indeed be something very special for our country and for myself."
Also On the Rise... Teens Make Breakthroughs
Japanese teenager Kei Nishikori, a winner of his first ATP title earlier this season, is the youngest player in the Top 100 South African Airways ATP Rankings at 18 years, 5 months.
Nishikori broke into the Top 100 on April 28 at No. 99 after capturing the Bermuda Challenger title. In February, he earned his first ATP crown in Delray Beach, defeating James Blake in the final.
Off the court, the young phenom has also gained attention by signing a three-year endorsement deal to be a global ambassador for Sony Corporation.
In both of his title runs, Nishikori saved match points. He saved four match points in his semifinal victory over Sam Querrey in Delray Beach. In the final win in Bermuda over Viktor Troicki, he saved two match points before prevailing in a third set tie-break.
Nishikori, who is the first Japanese player to rank in the Top 100 since Shuzo Matsuoka in 1996, said, "It feels great. He was my hero and it was one of my goals to accomplish this like him. I keep working hard to continue to move up in the rankings."
In April at the US Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston, American Ryan Harrison became the 11th player at the age of 15 in the Open Era to win an ATP main draw match.
The Louisiana native, who resides in New Braunfels, Texas, where he trains at the John Newcombe Tennis Academy, also reached a career-high No. 7 in the world junior rankings in April. He was a semifinalist at the Australian Open juniors in January. In doubles, he reached his first Challenger final in Baton Rouge in April.
Harrison plans to compete in Futures and Challengers the rest of the season along with selected junior tournaments.
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