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Almost famous

Stanislas Wawrinka unfurled his bread-and-butter stroke repeatedly with great control

Written by Aditya Iyer | Chennai | Published: January 1, 2012 2:42:46 am

Last year at the Chennai Open,Stanislas Wawrinka unfurled his bread-and-butter stroke — the one-handed backhand — repeatedly with great control. He executed it with precision on way to winning the 2011 title.

Because it was celebration time for Wawrinka in Chennai,he held the racquet by its head and cracked the ball with the handle shortly after beating Xavier Malisse in the final. “Ladies and gentlemen,” screamed the emcee on court,“Give a big round of applause to Roger Federer’s doubles partner,Wawrinka.” Try as he may,Warwrinka hasn’t been able to emerge from the shadow of his more illustrious countryman.

Even his mastery over the one-handed backhand hasn’t helped. The shot,of which there are only a few practitioners,is one that belonged to Warwrinka,before fellow Swiss Roger Federer took its execution to the highest realm of beauty.

The 25-year-old Wawrinka had just won his third career title,started the year 2011 on a high,destroyed Malisse 6-1 in the deciding set and rekindled his hopes of breaking back into the top-10 in the world. After hiring countryman Federer’s most famous coach,Peter Lundgren,Wawrinka clawed his way back to 14th on the rankings sheet in 2011 from a low of 27 the previous year. After splitting ways with Lundgren,Federer won 15 of his 16 Grand Slam titles.

But as the social-networking adage goes,you are who you know.

Wawrinka plays tennis,but his best friend on tour,Federer,practically owns it. The Swiss No.1 does not begin his calendar year in Chennai,the Swiss No.2 does.

Tamil Nadu Tennis Association has almost always managed to attract the next best from the countries which tennis’ top men belong to. The TNTA has done well for itself yet again,for other than sniper-backhand Wawrinka,the 2012 field also consists of Janko Tipsarevic and Nicolas Almagro. Not only are they World No.9 and 10 respectively,Serbians Tipsarevic and Novak Djokovic are thick as thieves on and off the court,while Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Almagro have spent the better part of their childhood smacking tennis balls at each other’s faces.

Next best thing

So other than a representative for Andy Murray,the Chennai crowds will witness buddies,practice partners,Davis Cup team-mates and,unfortunately,whipping boys of three out of the top four players in the world. They were the ones who couldn’t be as good,but perhaps have more interesting tour stories to narrate.

Take Tipsarevic for instance. Covered in tattoos,facial hair and prism-like spectacles,Tipsarevic jump-served his way to a 2-1 lead against defending champion Federer at the Australian Open in 2008. He lost his nerve and 10-8 in the fifth,while Djokovic thrashed a softened up champion in the semis to win his first Grand Slam. The loss must have hurt as Tipsarevic fell back on his two biggest passions for comfort — English literature and DJing in Belgrade.

Tipsarevic returned — smarter,relaxed and wiser. And by the end of 2011,he did three things he had never done before — win an ATP title,beat countryman Djokovic and break into the top-10.

“I don’t like playing against my close friend,” says Tipsarevic. “But it was a fantastic way to finish the season.” Indeed,not too many players culminate one by beating the man who has won three of the four Slams in the year-ending Masters.

That,and two titles in 2011 (two more than since he turned pro nine years prior) gave Tipsarevic his first break into the best ten in the world. Something that Almagro also managed to do last year.

Unlike any other Spaniard on the circuit today,Almagro has a single handed backhand. It does not have the flourish of Wawrinka or the beauty of Federer,but the one-armed swish is still a revelation considering he has grown up playing that shot on the slow and dusty clay surfaces of Spain. Despite being blessed with a fast serve,often touching 210 kmph — rare by Spanish standards — he has never crossed the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam.

But with three of his 10 career titles arriving in the 2011 season,Almagro reached a high of World No.9,and finished the year on 10. And he could yet start ’12 better than his compatriot Nadal ever did,with a shot at winning the 2012 Chennai Open.

There may be no Nadal,Djokovic and Federer during the muggiest opening event of the tennis calendar,but there are two current top-10 players. Also in Wawrinka,in the 15 years of hosting the ATP event,the single-handed backhanded has probably never been demonstrated better on these shores.

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