December 30, 2013 1:24:13 am
On the forearm that does not participate in his hallmark stroke,the single-handed backhand in all its charm,Stanislas Wawrinka has a message inscribed in cursive ink. Spread over two lines and a couple of veins,the tattoo reads: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Those 12 words and six punctuation marks were first strung together by Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett,for a prose piece called Worstward Ho. Wawrinka must have smiled as he read it. It summed up the very existential nature of his life.
Few top tennis players have ever tried and ever failed like this world number eight Swiss. Forget aspiring to become the best player in the world,Wawrinka perhaps knew that he wouldnt ever be the best player in his country; not as long as Roger Federer was swishing back his locks on a tennis court. The crisis deepened in 2011. At the season opener in Chennai,his laser sharp returns sliced through some stiff competition in the form of Tomas Berdych and former Chennai Open champ Xavier Malisse to win Wawrinka his first hardcourt title. And third over all.
With the Nungambakkam crown,he broke into the top-20 a sign of his career heading in the right direction. Only,Federer ended any stray hope by brushing his countryman off in the early rounds of both the Australian and French Opens,before Simone Bolelli (ranked 116 then) and Donald Young (84) put his season out of its misery with easy second round defeats at Wimbledon and the US Open respectively.
Such is life. There is only one person a week who goes home without losing, he was quoted as saying shortly before beginning 2012 outside the top 20. And if you’re not Roger,Rafa,Nole or Andy,you always lose.
Somewhere in the heavens,existentialist Beckett smiled.
It didnt take a Roger,Rafa,Nole or Andy to make Wawrinka lose his first tournament of 2013; a little known Slovak called Aljaz Bedene was enough. With a straight-sets defeat in Chennai to this 86th-ranked player,Wawrinkas season had gotten off to the worst possible start. Only,he went on to record his breakthrough year at the ripe old age of 28.
At the following Aussie Open,he took a 6-1,5-2 lead over defending champion Djokovic in the fourth round,losing the tie 12-10 in a soul-crushing fifth. Then he beat to-be French Open finalist David Ferrer on clay to win Portugal. Then he reached his first ever Grand Slam semi-final,smashing reigning Wimbledon king Andy Murray in the quarters of the US Open in straight sets,only to narrowly miss out on a finals berth by conceding yet another two-sets-to-one lead to Djokovic.
The year ended with a bang,with Wawrinka making it past the round-robin stage and into the semifinal of the World Tour Finals in London for the first time ever. Again,it took the best in the business,Djokovic,to conquer him.
My matches against Novak in Melbourne and New York were two of the most spectacular matches of 2013. Even if I lost,they showed me how close I am to the top guys, Wawrinka said on his arrival in the city. It was easily my most outstanding year. in stellar company
Wawrinka,interestingly,is not the first player to record his most outstanding year after suffering at the hands of a nobody in Chennai. Since the turn of the century,nearly every Nungambakkam event has thrown up an early loser who went on to reach a Grand Slam final that year,if not win it.
In 2000,Yevgeny Kafelnikov lost in the first round of Chennai to Michal Tabara but reached the Aussie Open final later that month. In 2002,Tommy Johansson was beaten in the third round by Paradorn Srichaphan,The Swede won his only Slam twenty days later in Melbourne,with an upset win over Marat Safin.
The list only gets better. Rainer Schuettler and Mark Philippoussis faced off in the second round here in 2003. Schuettler won in straight sets,only to go down to Jean-Rene Lisnard in the third. Schuettler finished January as an Aussie Open finalist; Philippoussis ended July with a runner-up plate at Wimbledon.
Similarly,just months after getting beaten by an over-the-hill Carlos Moya in the Chennai semis,Rafael Nadal went on to grab his Wimbledon trophy on his third attempt. Robin Soderling too proved that his first French Open final appearance in 2009 was no fluke by losing to Robby Ginepri in the first round in India. Half a year later,he was a Roland Garros runner-up again.
So who will be Chennai 2014s lucky loser? Will it be second seed Mikhail Youzhny? The skull-cracking,tantrum-throwing 31-year old Russian is on the verge of giving a stagnant career one final push. That push could come as early as the second round,where he potentially faces a man he has lost to in the past,Dudi Sela.
Could it be the big-serving,big mover of 2013,Vasek Pospisil? The 32nd ranked Canadian faces a wildcard (Kyle Edmund) in the first round. A defeat in that match should definitely set his season up nicely.
But when you hedge your bets,dont discount top seed Wawrinka. The man who potentially faces Benjamin Giant Killer Becker in the second round. The man who,as we now know,fails again to fail better.
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