US Open 2016: Stan Wawrinka’s success should be seen for what it means to tennis today

World Number Three, 31-year-old, Stan Wawrinka won his third Grand Slam, in as many finals, beating top-seeded defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-7 (1/7), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 .

Those are some serious numbers to boast – three majors in three finals, two of them after the age of 30, prevailing twice over the colossus called Djokovic.

Yet, one number that has eluded him is, his place so-called 'The Big Three, Four, (or Five?)' (Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) club. For one reason or another, the 31-year-old from Switzerland has never really been considered a part of current crop of men's tennis elite – with or without the supposed shadow of his fellow Swiss.

Stan Wawrinka. AP

Stan Wawrinka. AP

In his own words, Wawrinka doesn't consider himself, or even wants to be there. "The Big Four, I'm really far from them. Just look at the tournaments they have won, how many years they've been there. If you look yes, I have three Grand Slams. How many Masters 1000 has Murray? They have been there since ten years. They have not only been winning, but being in semi-finals, final every time. That's why I'm not there. I don't want to be there," he said after winning his third major, at Flushing Meadows.

However, a few days before winning the title, his response was different; it appeared that not being seen as part of the big boys club, and being reminded of it repeatedly, rankled him a little.

"I'm 31 years old, what do you want me to do? Just go to the beach? Not do anything? Did you ask that question to Rafa also or to Andy?" Wawrinka had replied when asked why he wasn't looking toward retirement.

Reading between the lines, the message is mixed.

However, Wawrinka's success has to be seen in relation to the Big Four, in the greater context of the sport– what his third title, toppling Djokovic again, means for men's tennis as it stands today.

With his consistent inconsistency, he could have just as easily gone the Marin Cilic way – one Grand Slam title and then back to the routine quarters, semis exits. He almost did. But fact is that in the last three years, he has won one major every year, proving that his 2014 Australian Open triumph,  which included an epic five-set win over three-time defending champion Djokovic, was no flash in the plan.

But is tennis success seen only in terms of titles, or more specifically Slams?

Well, the numbers in this equation won't add up. Not in case of Wawrinka.

As tennis writer Kamakshi Tandon wrote on Twitter, "It used to be said Murray not Big Four because he hadn't won a Slam. Now Stan can't be Big Five because he doesn't win much except Slams."

Age is a large factor is this equation, but there are many more numbers that matter. With the exception of Federer, the other three are younger than the US Open champ.

Wawrinka, at 31, has the same number of majors as Andy Murray at 29. Yet, Murray has played in 11 Slam finals.

Of the last 47 Grand Slams, 42 have been won by Novak Djokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Only three others have managed to break in – Juan Martin del Potro back in 2009, Marin Cilic in 2014 at New York, and Wawrinka at Australian Open 2014, French Open 2015 and now at US Open 2016.

Wawrinka has only one Masters among his 15 career tiles, while Murray has 12 along with 39 trophies in total. To put in perspective, Djokovic has 12 majors and 66 career titles, Federer has 17 majors with 69 trophies, while Nadal has 14 Slams and 69 titles.

And then there is the head-to-heads comparisons with other 'Big Four'

Against Djokovic, he trails 5-19; against Murray he is 7-9 down. But he leads Federer 18-3 while Nadal is 15-3 up.

But then again, the rules for this 'club' are skewed. Till 2011, the real challenge was just between the Big Two – Federer and Nadal. But in 2011, Djokovic well and truly  made it the Big Three. For the longest time, it was restricted to them, even with Murray snapping at their heels on the points, because he hadn't won a major... till he won the US Open in 2012 (after an Olympic gold) and followed it with the Wimbledon in 2013. Although his next title came three years later in 2016, he has been a consistent runner-up. And thus the Big Four was all Slam-winners only club.

But now with Wawrinka and Murray on the same number, Nadal nearing the brink -- inch-by-inch is the left-handers typical style, and Federer as good as out as far as the rankings are concerned, can Wawrinka make it 'Big Five'? Or maybe, break in and be the Swiss replacement in the Big Four? Or maybe not care about this number at all.

While we are at it, here some more Wawrinka numbers to consider, which show just why Wawrinka's success matters when seen through the lens of men's tennis today. Just at look at this US Open, for example.

At 31, Wawrinka is the oldest US Open men's champion in 46 years.

This was his third Grand Slam final, Djokovic was playing his 21st, seventh at the US Open.

Throughout the tournament, he spent nearly 18 hours on court, saving a match point in a five-set thriller over unheralded Dan Evans in the third round, fighting it out against former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals, and escaping resurgent former champion Juan Martin del Potro in a quarterfinal four-setter. Comparatively, Djokovic had a relatively smooth run with only three complete matches, thanks to a spate of walkovers and that bizarre semifinal against Gael Monfils.

Yet, the he emerged on top in another gruelling, almost four-hour long encounter against a player often known as the 'lean, mean, winning-machine'

Mere minutes before heading out, Stan Wawrinka said he was shaking, even crying in the locker room.


"I don't want to lose the final in a Grand Slam, that simple. That's the only reason," he explained later. "The feeling of: You don't want to lose. I don't want to come to the court and lose a final. So close, so far."

Stan Wawrinka may not have the raw powerful skill of Nadal, or the elegantly crafted style of compatriot Federer or even the overreaching, boundless stamina of Djokovic – but he has passion, the sheer, unabashed, bordering on animal-instinct passion that brings together skill, style and stamina.

"I love my sport. It's my passion. It's an amazing feeling to be out there," Wawrinka said before his title winning match.

It is this passion that has taken the 31-year-old  to three Slam titles, the top three. It is this passion that will take him ahead, as he makes his place firmly in the echelons of men's tennis. It is this passion he wears on his sleeve, literally, with his tattoo that reads – Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better

Updated Date: Sep 12, 2016 17:12 PM

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