Stan the Man

Stan Wawrinka’s victory in the Australian Open properly deserves all the superlatives it received.  The first time…The first time…The first time…It also marked the first time that Stan has been ranked ahead of Roger Federer. The perpetual Swiss number two and first time Slam winner has jumped to number three in the world rankings, five places ahead of the 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer. While the 32-year old Federer tries desperately to regain his magic touch – new racket, new coach – the 28-year-old Swiss Romand native has become the darling of more than just the sporting world. He was Man of the Year in Switzerland even before he won in Melbourne.

What explains Wawrinka’s popularity?


The obvious answer is that everyone – not just Americans – loves a winner. When “Stan the Man” (a nickname taken from the famous U.S. baseball star Stan Musial) reached the semi-finals of the US Open last September, he was already becoming a crowd favorite. He is discreet and hard working; we all empathized when he broke down and cried after losing to Novak Djokovic 12-10 in the fifth set in last year’s Australian Open. And we are thrilled that his hard work is paying off.

Wawrinka appears as the everyman of tennis who succeeds in spite of his limitations. Sure he has one of the most powerful backhands in tennis, but his touch is evidently missing. He has none of the grace of Federer, none of the mental toughness of Nadal, none of phenomenal retrieving of Djokovic. His game is easily understood. When he pounded his head towards the end of the Australian final, millions of tennis players around the world understood that he had finally understood what he was supposed to do, just as millions of players understood when he zippered his lips looking at his coach to indicate that he needed no instructions from the gallery. Stan had finally arrived to be his own Man. The fact that Wawrinka continues to play Davis Cup for Switzerland in spite of a busy schedule also increases his popularity; he is a devoted patriot ready to go into battle (sort of) for his country. 

And what about Roger? The aging superstar is in many ways the opposite of his Olympic gold medal doubles partner. Elegant in dress and strokes, Roger is universally admired, but not like Stan. Roger cried when he won; Stan cried when he lost. Stan loves the Davis Cup, Roger is usually too busy. Roger is a suave fashion freak who already has his own line of clothing; Stan dresses simply and looks rather unkempt and unshaven. Roger’s wife and children sit adoringly at his matches, perhaps as part of his branding campaign; his agent and Roger have just started their own company. Stan’s renewed commitment to his home life seems to have become part of his improved results, but his family was not at courtside Down Under. One can empathize with his impatience to give his daughter a huge hug. Roger, sorry to say, is not huggable.

Congratulations Stan. It is refreshing to see that there is some justice in a world where compensation for hard work has become a rare commodity. Enough of primal screams after victory, enough of rolling on the ground in exuberance, enough of tearing off shirts to flex and roar after victory. Congratulations on being a Man. And I do wonder if Roger is not just a little jealous of your victory, if not your popularity. And I also wonder if this is why Roger is now playing Davis Cup.




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