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It took a while, but Stan Wawrinka has confidence to win majors

Stan Wawrinka hits a backhand against Kei Nishikori

Stan Wawrinka hits a backhand against Kei Nishikori in the first set of the men's semifinals match at Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2016 U.S. Open Tennis Championships at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016 Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Stan Wawrinka could have saved a lot of ink on the tattoo that sums up his tennis perspective on the inside of his left forearm. What is written there is a lengthy, philosophical musing from Irish poet Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

It certainly captures Wawrinka’s ultimately healthy attitude about a 14-year professional career that still is getting better months past Wawrinka’s 31st birthday. But then, so would “Roll with the punches.”

To get to his first U.S. Open championship final, against top-ranked Novak Djokovic Sunday, Wawrinka needed 12 Flushing Meadows appearances. Never as far as a major-tournament semifinal in his first 35 Grand Slam events, he now has advanced at least as far as the semis six times in his last 13 Slams.

This is his third major final in three years, and he won the previous two — the 2014 Australian Open and 2015 French. He has risen to No. 3 in the world rankings.

“It took me a little time, and step by step,” Wawrinka said. But he stuck to a realistic approach during an era dominated by his Swiss countryman Roger Federer, Serbia’s Djokovic, Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Britain’s Andy Murray.

“I was looking at them — semifinal, final, every year,” Wawrinka said. “They have been [at] a different level than every other player.

“They have made me better. With them, every time I step on the court, even if they are way better in their career, I always have something I need to tell myself: Maybe I can beat them. You need to find a way. If you lose, it’s OK. You go back to practice.”

Against Djokovic, Wawrinka has lost 19 of 23 matches. But in Slams, he four times took Djokovic to the five-set limit before losing, and in the 2015 French Open final, he beat Djokovic in four.

Today, Wawrinka said he would think “not about the match, but the victory . . . confidence to tell myself I know I can do it, because I did it at the French Open final. Novak knows also that I can play my best tennis in the final of a Grand Slam.”

So many of his peers, Wawrinka said, faced the Federers, Djokovics, Nadals and Murrays “not even thinking they can beat them. I always try to believe in something, that maybe one day I can beat them, and that’s what happened the past few years.”

With no guarantee, he reminded, that will continue . . . “In a Slam is where I want to play my best tennis,” he said. “But, again, when you play Novak, even playing your best tennis, you can also lose. Novak is a strong guy. He’s mentally a beast. He is amazing defender, amazing fighter, amazing player.”

Nevertheless, Wawrinka will try again against Djokovic, whose 12 career major titles put him behind only Federer (17), Pete Sampras (14) and Nadal (14). If he fails, Wawrinka intends to fail better. He already has proved he can take a punch.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC vs. STAN WAWRINKA

Djokovic leads, 19-4

2006 Umag, Croatia………… F… Wawrinka, 6-6, ret.

2006 Davis Cup (Switz)……. - … Djokovic, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4

2006 Vienna…………………….R16..Wawrinka, 6-3, 6-3

2007 Vienna……………………. F… Djokovic, 6-4, 6-0

2008 Indian Wells…………… QF Djokovic, 7-6, 6-2

2008 Rome…………………….. F… Djokovic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3

2009 Indian Wells……………R16.. Djokovic, 7-6, 7-6

2009 Monte Carlo…………… SF.. Djokovic, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3

2009 Basel, Switz……………. QF.. Djokovic 3-6, 7-6, 6-2

2010 Monte Carlo……………R16.. Djokovic, 6-4, 6-4

2011 Rome………………………R16.. Djokovic, 6-4, 6-1

2012 Madrid…………………… R16.. Djokovic, 7-6, 6-4

2012 U.S. OPEN………………. R16.. Djokovic, 6-4, 6-1, 3-1 ret.

2013 AUSTRALIAN OPEN…. R16.. Djokovic, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7, 12-10

2013 U.S. OPEN……………….. SF Djokovic, 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

2013 Paris……………………….. QF.. Djokovic, 6-1, 6-4

2013 London…………………… SF.. Djokovic, 6-3, 6-3

2014 AUSTRALIAN OPEN…. QF. Wawrinka, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7

2014 London…………………… RR Djokovic, 6-3, 6-0

2015 AUSTRALIAN OPEN… SF Djokovic, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0

2015 FRENCH OPEN…………. F Wawrinka, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4

2015 Cincinnati…………………. QF. Djokovic, 6-4, 6-1

2015 Paris…………………………. SF Djokovic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0

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