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U.S. Open winner Stan Wawrinka deserves seat at big table

Stan Wawrinka raises the trophy after defeating Novak

Stan Wawrinka raises the trophy after defeating Novak Djokovic in four set (6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3) in the men's finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2016 U.S. Open Tennis Championships at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Stan Wawrinka no longer is an interloper, no longer the outsider politely knocking on the door of history and hoping to be included in the conversation of who are the great players in the game.

No, there was nothing polite about the way Wawrinka dethroned Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked player in the game, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3, Sunday to win his first U.S. Open singles trophy.

Wawrinka’s third Grand Slam title demands that he be discussed along with the big four of men’s tennis: Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. Since the 2005 French Open, that group has been responsible for 42 of the 47 Grand Slam tournament titles.

Yes, maybe it’s time to talk about tennis’ big five. At least, Djokovic thinks so.

“He deserves to be in the mix, no doubt about it,” Djokovic said. “Stan won three grand Slams now, and three different ones. Olympic medal. Been around for so many years, and he plays best in big matches. He definitely deserves to be mentioned in the mix of top players.”

Wawrinka has won 11 straight finals and has won every major except Wimbledon. He is tied with Murray with three Grand Slam wins. And perhaps most interestingly, he is the only active player to win two titles after the age of 30, something that can be attributed to his strength and physical training.

John McEnroe likes to refer to Wawrinka as Stanima, a play on words that highlights the Swiss player’s incredible conditioning and ability to outlast opponents. That was clearly on display in last night’s three-hour, 55-minute match. Wawrinka, the No. 3 seed, entered it having spent about twice as much time on the court — 17 hours, 54 minutes compared to Djokovic’s eight hours, 58 minutes — en route to the final. That court time included an epic four-hour, third-round match in which he had to battle back in five sets against Britain’s Daniel Evans.

Yet, despite all that — or maybe because of it — he was able to outlast the best player in the game both mentally and physically after losing the first set on a tiebreak. He progressively wore down Djokovic with the pure power of his ground strokes, which include the most formidable single-handed backhand in tennis. By the final game of the set, Djokovic looked spent, and at one point even took a six-minute medical timeout to have blisters on his toes examined.

Djokovic declined to talk about the blisters afterward, saying he did not want to make excuses and take away from Wawrinka’s victory.

Wawrinka is 3-0 in Grand Slam finals, having beaten the No. 1 player in each of them. He was the last player to have beaten Djokovic in a Grand Slam final, at the 2015 French Open.

“He just loves playing in the big matches,” Djokovic said. “He comes up with his best game. He’s so solid from both corners. He’s got a good slice and amazing one-handed backhand. Big serve. Moves well.”

All of which is pretty impressive for a 31-year-old who didn’t get to the semifinals of a major until he was 28. Wawrinka became the oldest U.S. Open men’s champion since 1970, when Ken Rosewall won it at age 35.

Wawrinka joked as if he was feeling every one of those years at the end of the match.

“I’m completely empty,” he said. “I had to bring everything I had today against Novak. It’s been an amazing night.”

Spoken like a true insider.


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