One of the first orders of business for Stan Wawrinka on his return to Melbourne Park last week was to see the photo of himself holding the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on the ‘Walk of Champions’ under the Rod Laver Arena centre court. His second order of business was to banish any thoughts of holding another.
Winning the Australian Open was dream-like for the Swiss, and for most pundits incapable of imagining the Big Four’s stranglehold on the grand slams might be broken so soon. Twelve months later, Wawrinka is reluctant to reminisce and even less willing to imagine defending his hard-won title. “I’m not focused on that,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park on the eve of the year’s first grand slam. “I’m not putting my goal to win a grand slam. I know I can do it, that’s not the question. But it’s a long way for that. For me, most important is to be ready for the first match. I know how it is. I’ve been playing so many years to know the deal. You have to be ready, take match after match, and see where you can go.”
In 2013, Wawrinka’s fruitless battles against the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the grand slams inspired him to tattoo his arm with a Samuel Beckett quotation on the virtue of failure. On Sunday, Wawrinka wore a more commercially-driven T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Stan the Man’ in large white letters over Swiss red. It was the nickname of choice, he said, out of a number that floated around last year, including ‘The Stanimal’ which his compatriot and friend Federer enjoyed tweeting.
Still unshaved and still slightly awkward with the media attention, Wawrinka, seeded fourth, said success had inevitably changed him while his Davis Cup win with Federer had provided the perfect finish to a “crazy” 2014. After Australia, Wawrinka failed to pass the quarter-finals at the three following majors, but his preparations have been ominously similar to last year’s leadup.
Defending his Chennai Open title with a straight-sets win in the final against highly fancied Croatian teenager Borna Coric, Wawrinka’s hopes have also been boosted by a kind draw. He plays 100th-ranked Turk Marsel Ilhan in the first round and 16th-seeded Italian Fabio Fognini is the highest seed he can meet before the quarter-finals.