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Losing first set not end of the world, says French Open champion Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka is the owner of the most incredible shot in the game today. Using his one-handed backhand to great effect, he stunned the tennis world by overpowering Novak Djokovic to win the French Open three weeks ago. The Swiss, however, tells Derek Abraham that it would be silly to dream of becoming World No. 1. Excerpts from an interview…

Congratulations on the splendid victory at Roland Garros. Whom did you celebrate with and how?

I had a nice dinner with my family, my team and some friends in the hotel. Later, we were sitting outside. We had a good time together.

The tennis world is talking about your backhand. Many, including Mats Wilander and John McEnroe, have called it the best backhand in the business today. Take us through the origin of that shot. Who inspired you to opt for a one-handed backhand instead of the conventional two-handed shot? And how do you generate so much power and precision?

As a child, I played with a two-handed backhand. But it wasn’t very good. So, together with my coach Dimitri Zavialoff, we changed it to a one-handed backhand. My backhand is very natural and powerful. I like to be very aggressive with it. The preparation and the legs are crucial.

Stan, given that you won your first Grand Slam title aged nearly 29, the tennis-loving public consider you a late bloomer. What took Stan the child prodigy so long to realise his full potential? And how keen are you to make up for lost time?

I only started playing when I was eight and entered the top 100 at 20. During the last few years, I became more mature, especially mentally. My good performances against top players showed me that I can beat them if I play my best tennis. A lot of things need to come together: you need to work extremely hard and make sacrifices. My work paid off during the last two years and I did things I never expected to be able to do. I’m very motivated to continue like that, but I never had the feeling that I have lost time. I’ve been a good player for a long time. I first reached the top 10 in 2008.

Prior to your association with Magnus Norman, you took part in 36 Grand Slam tournaments without going beyond the quarters. What has Norman brought to the table? On TV, he comes across as a friend/brother to you. Wilander calls him the best tennis coach in the world. Please talk about his style, methods and strategies…

I really like working with him. He has a great vision of the game. He has been a top player. He has competed in a Grand Slam final (lost to Gustavo Kuerten in the 2000 French Open final) and did great work with Robin Soderling. I’ll give you an example of his style. When we first started working together, we worked on the schedule because he could not travel with me to all the tournaments. He wrote a list of all the tournaments where he would come with me. He also put the ATP World Tour Finals on that list and I was ranked 18 when we worked on that list (only the world’s top eight play at the season-ending championships). I was impressed by his thought process. He has a mental influence (on me) without making a big fuss around it.

Please take us through that magical Sunday. When did you wake up? What did you do? How did you mentally prepare for the big match against Djokovic?

I always wake up pretty early, have breakfast, drink some coffee and read the newspapers. Then, I went to the stadium, warmed up and had some lunch with my team. Before the match, I went to the locker room, got ready and spoke a little bit with my team. In such a match, you know that there will be tough moments, that you will have to try to fight through that. A Grand Slam final is something very special, a unique atmosphere.

Stan, every time you win a big point, you point towards your head. How much of a transformation has Stan the believer, Stan the thinker and Stan the strategist undergone over the past two-three years?

It’s very important to stay focused and calm during the big moments. I’ve worked a lot on that with my coach, we had many discussions. It’s a strong gesture. I started doing this at the 2014 Australian Open and somehow it helps me.

Djokovic has lost a handful of matches in the past couple of years. How did you plan for this big match against a player who’s considered physically, mentally and tactically the best in the world today? The very fact that you destroyed him at his own game from the baseline with 60 winners to his 30 proves that you were in supreme control. Please offer us a peek into your strategy…

I played the match of my life in Paris. I’m very proud of my performance. Novak is such a great player, an unbelievable athlete. I played a few five setters against him during the last two years and managed to beat him in Australia last year. I knew that over a long match I have a chance if I play very well. It was an impressive match. I was playing aggressively, stayed focused and played a great match.

What did you tell yourself after losing the first set?

I know that in a five-set match everything is possible. Losing the first set is not the end of the world. You always have time to come back if you play well. I stayed very focused after losing the set, hoping that my chances would come if I continued to play well.

What was the turning point of the final for you?

Tough question. It was extremely important to win the second set and get him out of his comfort zone. I stayed in the match and started playing better, bothering him more. The second set gave me a lot of confidence.

Even after you won in Australia, the tennis world wasn’t ready to accept that the Big Four could be challenged. Now, you have done it again. Where do you go from here? How keen are you on winning Wimbledon and the US Open? Also, is improving your record at the Masters 1000 events a priority?

My goal is to play more consistent. Of course, I want to do well at the Slams, but the Masters 1000s and the ATP World Tour Finals are also extremely important events, great tournaments. I want to become more consistent during the whole year, have less ups and downs.

Do you dream of becoming World No. 1?

Look how far ahead Novak is! I would be silly to say that I want to become No. 1. I want to play well day after day, win more titles and become a more consistent player. But No. 1 is not something I’m thinking about, to be honest.

Finally, what did Roger Federer tell you after you won the title?

He actually tried to call me when I was about to go to the press (conference), so I couldn’t answer. He was extremely happy for me, sent me a message right away. He was very excited, almost as if he had won himself. He’s a true friend and it makes me happy to have his support.

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