Melbourne – Stanislas Wawrinka has emerged from behind the shadow of Roger Federer to claim his own niche in the men's tennis order by reaching the Grand Slam summit at the Australian Open.
It has been a break-out tournament for the understated Swiss, with an epic five-set win over three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic backed up by beating world number seven Tomas Berdych to march into Sunday's Melbourne final.
It is the 28-year-old's first Grand Slam final, four months after losing to Djokovic over five sets in the US Open semi-finals, and signals a coming of age as he looks to land his maiden major title.
Adding spice to his achievement is that Wawrinka has supplanted Federer as the number one ranked Swiss player, a position his close friend has owned since 2001.
Wawrinka's rise in the rankings from 17 at year-end 2012 to at least five next week stems back to his monumental fourth round loss to Djokovic, that went 12-10 in the fifth set, at last year's Australian Open.
He carried this on to his tight defeat in New York and his redeeming victory over Djokovic in the quarters this week.
Tattooed on his left forearm are the words of Irish poet Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Wawrinka had lost 14 times in a row before triumphing over Djokovic.
“The match against Novak gave me a lot of confidence and showed me that I can play on a very high level in a very important match against one of the bug guys,” Wawrinka said.
“After the (2013) semi-final at the US Open I knew that I was close to be there. But it still was far away for me to make a final in a Grand Slam.
“It's tough for me to have as a goal to make the final in a Grand Slam, especially with Novak, Rafa, Roger and Andy (Murray). I knew I had the level to beat the top players, but to be in the final you have to do it again and again.”
Wawrinka has always been admired for his artful one-handed backhand but it's his all-round game, also armed with a potent serve and forehand, that has propelled him into Grand Slam contention over the last 18 months.
“I now have more confidence in myself. I know that when I go on court I can beat almost everybody, even on the big stage like in a Grand Slam semi-final,” he said.
“It's a lot about confidence, especially with my game that I'm playing quite fast from the baseline, trying to always be aggressive.
“So I take a lot of risks and it's important to be really fresh and relaxed in my head.”
That also corresponds with the arrival of Magnus Norman as his coach last April, with the Swede formerly in charge of countryman Robin Soderling, who is the only man to beat clay king Rafael Nadal at the French Open back in 2009.
Wawrinka said he was now in the best form of his career and was better at handling the pressure of the big matches.
“Last year I had the feeling that I was playing better, but I was also dealing better with the pressure,” he said.
“I'm more mature. I'm 28 now. I've been on the tour for 10 years. Now I feel that it's my time to play my best tennis.
“I'm enjoying more what I'm doing, when I'm winning, and also maybe I know more how to deal with all the pressure.” – Sapa-AFP