PARIS – Stan Wawrinka. Stan the Man. The Stanimal. Whatever name you choose you can now add 2015 French Open champion to the mix. The No. 8 seed pounded No. 1 Novak Djokovic into submission behind a barrage of power, winning 4–6, 6–4, 6–3, 6–4 to win the French Open title and his second major in 16 months.
Three thoughts on Wawrinka's win:
Wawrinka raised his level to stun Djokovic
At the beginning of the tournament, Wawrinka was getting more attention for his garish shorts than his tennis. But it's never been about forehands and backhands for Wawrinka. His biggest improvements have been mental. As he tore through the draw, losing just one set in five matches, the self-belief came. Before Sunday's final he told reporters that he knew he had the game to bother Djokovic, he just had to find a way to play it.
And he did. Wawrinka absolutely took it to Djokovic on Sunday. This was Beast Mode tennis on the most physical stage. He doubled up Djokovic in the winners column, firing 60 to the Serb's 30, while hitting 45 unforced errors, an impressive +15 differential. He needed a better-than-good serving day against the game's best returner, and he got it, serving at 67%, his best success rate of the tournament. His ability to serve himself out of trouble helped him save eight of ten break points, three of which came in the fourth set when he found himself down 0-40 at 3-4.
And that backhand—that one-handed beast of a backhand—was electric. After saving those three break points at 3-4, Wawrinka found himself with break point for a chance to serve out the match. As Djokovic threw in another panicked net rush, Wawrinka threaded an inch-perfect missile down the line to break.
"He has probably the best one-handed backhand on the tour," Djokovic said. "No question one of the best one-handed backhands that I have seen in tennis."
No one was talking about Wawrinka prior to the French Open. His last match before Paris? A 7–6(5), 4–6, 4–6 loss to No. 74 Federico Delbonis at the Geneva Open. Last year, he lost in the first round. After a breakout 2014 season that saw him win his first Slam title, first ATP Masters 1000 and Switzerland's first Davis Cup title, Wawrinka has been all over the place in 2015.
After his performance on Sunday, who knows what Wawrinka will take the court next. He may not get to the championship match every week or even on the regular, like the ATP's Big Four have done time and time again. But he's a big-time player with the weapons to turn any match-up on its head. Put him in on any given Sunday and he has the tools to beat absolutely anyone. On Sunday he beat the best in the game.
Djokovic falls short again—but his time will come
How do you not to feel for Djokovic? In his quest for his first French Open title and the career Slam, Djokovic faltered in Sunday's final, unable to top Wawrinka's top-notch tennis. He's developed himself into a near-unstoppable player who rarely loses on the ATP Tour, but besides the Australian Open where he is a dominant five-time champion, Djokovic has won just one of the last ten majors he's played. For years the question surrounding him was his ability to handle on-court pressure. He dismissed that explanation after his loss on Sunday.
"Pressure is part of what I do," he said. "I got used to it. I had many tough matches in my life. Today I went out on the court knowing I'm close, but across the net I had also a player that wanted to win and he had a match to lose. He was playing very well. He deserved to win."
Djokovic came into the final having played back-to-back days after his semifinal against Andy Murray was suspended on Friday for weather and light. He refused to use it as an excuse, but admitted he did not feel as explosive on the court as the match wore on.
"It feels like I'm the only player who wants to win this trophy and nobody wants to win it as much as I do; this is completely untrue," Djokovic said. "Every single player who is here, especially the top players, want to win this trophy as much as do. I think that's something that we have to keep in mind."
In his quest to put himself into the conversation as one of the best to ever play the game he has transformed himself into a near-unstoppable player. His losses are rare on the ATP Tour. In the middle of a 39-shot rally in the first game a British colleague exclaimed "How do you hit through this bloke?" It was as if Wawrinka heard the rhetorical question and decided to provide an answer.
There's little doubt in my mind that Djokovic will win the French Open before his career is over. He is still the most consistent, most solid player in the game. In Paris, he dusted Nadal in three sets in the quarterfinals and outlasted Murray for the eighth straight time. But he ran into Wawrinka on his best day on Sunday. That's bad luck. No one could have withstood that barrage of power. He's still the top dog and his time will come.
What now for Wawrinka?
We have been spoiled in this Golden Era of tennis. The men who win the Slams win them repeatedly, and are expected to win everything. Wawrinka now has the same number of major titles as Andy Murray. But consistency has always been a struggle for Wawrinka. He knows it. And he's still trying to fix it.
"I don't know," Wawrinka said, when asked how he can replicate this success on the regular tour. "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 title sometimes during the years. So I didn't find the way how to play my best game every tournament, but I'm still okay and satisfied with my career so far."
Much has been made of the Samuel Beckett quote tattooed into Wawrinka's arm when he won the Australian Open: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
Asked about the quote again on Sunday, a smiling Stan summed it all up: "It's just my career. It's quite strange when I tell myself that I have a gold medal, a Davis Cup, and I have two Grand Slam. Something quite amazing. Never expect to be that far in my career. Never expect to be that strong."