The year 2015 was supposed to be the year Novak Djokovic captured the lone trophy that has eluded him up to this point in his career, La Coupe des Mousquetaires (The Musketeers' Trophy), the Men’s Singles Championship at the French Open.
The chips fell into place. With Roger Federer aging and nine-time champion Rafael Nadal still struggling to find his form, the stars aligned for Djokovic to complete the career Grand Slam.
But it was not to be.
Djokovic ran into a buzzsaw, in the form of Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, who outclassed Djokovic over the final three sets to win the second major title of his career with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Wawrinka, seeded eighth, became the lowest seed to capture the title at Roland Garros since Gaston Gaudio in 2004. With his win at the French Open, Wawrinka became the first player to beat the number one seed (Djokovic) and number two seed (Roger Federer) on his way to the title since Sergei Bruguera defeated the top-seeded Pete Sampras and second-seeded Jim Courier en route to his title win in 1993. In Wawrinka’s first Grand Slam title win, the 2014 Australian Open, the Swiss also knocked off the top two seeds, Djokovic and Nadal, on his way to hoisting the title in Melbourne.
His devastating one-handed backhand gave Djokovic trouble all-match long, and Wawrinka’s unwavering aggressiveness pushed him through the whole tournament. In his quarterfinal win over fellow Swiss Federer, a man who has overshadowed him for years, he fired 43 winners to just 28 unforced errors in a straight-set win.
In the semis against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Wawrinka hit 60 winners, and then hit 60 more in the final against Djokovic, prompting great praise from the world number one.
“He probably has the best one-handed backhand on the tour,” said Djokovic. “No question … one of the best one-handed backhands I have seen in tennis.”
The power and force he put on his backhand made it extremely difficult to return on the clay courts of Roland Garros.
Winning a second Grand Slam title goes a long way in terms of how you are viewed on the totem pole of the sport. There have been a number of one-hit wonders in the sport’s recent history, including Juan Martin del Potro winning the U.S. Open in 2009 and Marin Cilic, winner of the 2014 U.S. Open championship.
Wawrinka’s win at Roland Garros in 2015 solidifies him as one of the best in the sport, and might signify an end to the dominant reign of the Big Four (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray). But can Wawrinka stay consistent, something that has eluded him after his Australian Open title last year and throughout the season?
“I don’t know,” Wawrinka said honestly after his win. “I’m trying. I’m trying in every tournament, but so far it’s just me. I’m not as strong as the Big Four. They are winning everything. But I’m strong enough to win some big titles during the year.”
Wawrinka’s coach, Magnus Norman, has had a lot to do with the attitude change in the 30-year-old. Norman is a former world number two and retired from the sport in 2004. He has been with Wawrinka for both of his Grand Slam titles.
Norman has stressed to his player that he must continue to put in the work, tournament after tournament, even at some of the ATP’s lower level events, because that is what the great ones do.
“That’s why he is a very interesting player to watch, because you never know what to expect,” said Norman after the French Open. “At Roland Garros, we saw the greatness of Stan, but next week, it could be something else. This is my job: To try to make him a little bit more consistent. If he wants to break into the top four and do well, he has to be more consistent, week in and week out.”
Finding consistency will be the key for Wawrinka moving forward not only for the remainder of 2015, but for the rest of his career. In his first tournament following his victory in Paris, Wawrinka was defeated by Kevin Anderson at the Aegon Championships in the third round in his only grass-court tune up prior to Wimbledon.
Wawrinka admitted that he was tired, both physically and emotionally, from winning the French Open, and the numerous obligations that come along with winning a Grand Slam title.
“I’m tired physically, but especially mentally,” he said after the loss to Anderson. “I need to find the right balance between relaxing now and practicing hard for Wimbledon.”
While the Swiss star has shown that he can beat the best in the world on the biggest of stages, maintaining that form from tournament to tournament is the next step he needs to take if he is to be considered a regular threat to the reign of the Big Four.
With Federer’s age potentially catching up with him and Nadal’s injuries hampering him, there is suddenly room at the top of the sport’s pecking order. Wawrinka’s showing through the remainder of 2015 will go a long way in proving to himself, and many others, that he will be a mainstay in the later rounds of Grand Slams.
It will be very interesting to see how Wawrinka fares as the ATP World Tour wraps up its grass-court season and inches closer to the hard-court season. If consistency is king, “Stan the Man” must grab his crown in order to continue to pose a true threat to the Big Four of the ATP Tour.