Gritty Wawrinka proves he belongs to the big league

Winning the Australian Open was bitter-sweet for Stanislas Wawrinka, whose delight at stepping out of Roger Federer’s shadow with his first Grand Slam title was tempered by the knowledge that his opponent Rafael Nadal was hampered by injury.

“I still think that I'm dreaming. It's a strange feeling. I saw so many finals. I always try to watch the final of Grand Slams because that's where the best players are playing.

“To beat Rafa today, even if he was injured, I think I played my best first set during the match; I was ready to play four hours or five to beat Novak (Djokovic) in the quarters, to beat  Berdych in the semis.

“That shows me I'm doing the right thing since many years. That if you practice well, if you work hard, you will always have a chance to be in a great position to play your best tennis.” The Melbourne Park triumph was arguably a year in the making. Wawrinka was left heart-broken in Rod Laver Arena last year in the wake of a fourth round marathon when he pushed a stunned Djokovic to the wall. Succumbing 12-10 in the fifth set, Wawrinka wept and said he could not have played any better.

The loss nonetheless became a watershed moment for the Swiss, who had suffered some terrible hidings against the rest of the ‘Big Four’. Failure became a badge of honour, and he had a quote from Irish playwright Samuel Beckett tattooed on his forearm, urging him to “fail better”.

Teaming up with former world number two Swede Magnus Norman, Wawrinka underlined his steely determination by upsetting 'Big Four' scalp Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the US Open, before another heart-breaking five-set loss to Djokovic in the semifinals.

By the time of his Melbourne Park re-match with world number two Djokovic, however, Wawrinka was a raging ball of fire. By upsetting the triple defending champion in five sets, Wawrinka proved to himself that he had the serve, the backhand and the will to beat anyone, regardless of reputation or record.

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