Why Stanislas Wawrinka Can Win the 2014 French Open

Jeffrey Ruth@@ruthjeffreyaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2014

Why Stanislas Wawrinka Can Win the 2014 French Open

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    Stanislas Wawrinka competes at the 2013 French Open.
    Stanislas Wawrinka competes at the 2013 French Open.Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    Now that Stanislas Wawrinka has broken the Grand Slam bubble, the inevitable question arises: Can he win another? He'll have the chance to answer that challenge at Roland Garros this May.

    And answer favorably he will.

    There are many things that work in the new No. 3 player's efforts. The first is obvious. He has proven to himself that he can win a major. The second is that he defeated two of the world's best players in doing so. Other factors include Wawrinka's past performance in Paris, who will be playing and, of course, how his strokes—especially the forehand—are looking come spring.

    Ultimately, things are looking up for the Australian Open champ's year. If these points are still in line, look for him to be atop the podium at the French Open.

    Here's why:

His Breakthrough Opens the Door

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    Stanislas Wawrinka enjoys his first Grand Slam trophy, looks for more.
    Stanislas Wawrinka enjoys his first Grand Slam trophy, looks for more.Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Stanislas Wawrinka has been slowly but steadily headed toward a Grand Slam breakthrough. It really comes as no huge surprise that he finally held a trophy aloft, even if the champion himself was a bit shell-shocked by the victory.

    A look at his career activity proves this.

    • 2013: U.S. Open semifinal (lost to Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-3, 3-6, 4-6); French Open quarterfinal (lost to Rafael Nadal, 2-6, 3-6, 1-6).
    • 2012: U.S. Open round of 16 (lost to Djokovic, 4-6, 1-6, 1-3 RET); French Open round of 16 (lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 4-6, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-3, 4-6).
    • 2011: French Open round of 16 (lost to Roger Federer, 3-6, 2-6, 5-7); Australian Open quarterfinal (lost to Federer, 1-6, 3-6, 3-6).

    These are just the last three years. These numbers show two important trends. First of all, he has moved along from round-of-16 appearances to quarters and semis, and now on to a championship. Second, his losses have come to top-of-the-top competitors, Tsonga notwithstanding.

    A breakthrough was coming, has arrived and looms more likely in the future.

Wins over Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal Pave the Way

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    Stanislas Wawrinka no longer plays second fiddle to Rafael Nadal.
    Stanislas Wawrinka no longer plays second fiddle to Rafael Nadal.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    In winning the 2014 Australian Open, Stanislas Wawrinka accomplished something crucial to his future Grand Slam hopes. He defeated world No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the same tournament.

    In other words, his win is not a fluke.

    Prior to his 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 defeat of Djokovic in the quarterfinals, Wawrinka held a record of two wins and 15 losses against the Serbian. Despite playing some memorable matches in recent outings (think 2013 U.S. and Australian Opens), he had come out on the losing ends. There is a huge difference between contending and winning.

    The same point can be made regarding his history against Nadal. He had an 0-12 record against the No. 1 player. Zero wins. Lots of losses. And all of them were straight-set losses. It would take quite a mental state to overcome that.

    He did it.

    It can be argued that Nadal was too injured to win, but at the same time the case is easily made that Nadal has played, and won, through these kinds of situations before. The bottom line is that Wawrinka won and now can believe he can win again.

    It should be noted, too, that Nadal contends that Wawrinka deserved to win, as his interview with The Guardian shows.

    Look for that belief to bolster the Swiss's chances at the next major, no matter who stands in his way.

He Is Comfortable on the Terre Battue

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    Always looking balanced on the clay, Stanislas Wawrinka at Monte Carlo, 2013.
    Always looking balanced on the clay, Stanislas Wawrinka at Monte Carlo, 2013.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Stanislas Wawrinka is 20-9 at the French Open. That is over 68 percent success. He has made the round of 16 or better for the past four years.

    In 2013 he reached the quarterfinals. As with the rest of his Grand Slam resume, he is improving with each successive campaign. He also made it to the final of the Masters 1000 event in Madrid right before last year's French Open, falling to Rafael Nadal, 2-6, 4-6. And then there are two straight quarters in Monte Carlo, also a warm-up event for the French.

    You get the picture.

    Nowhere was this more clear than at last year's Monte Carlo match against Andy Murray, where rival Rafael Nadal noted that playing Wawrinka early on clay is, "a bad draw."

    Many of Wawrinka's clay losses came against nemesis Nadal, as most everyone's losses on clay have. There's no shame in that, and now Wawrinka has beaten him in a Grand Slam event.

    His comfort level on the terre battue will take that belief to new levels this year in the 2014 French Open.

Stanislas Wawrinka Can Beat These Guys

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    Novak Djokovic reacts to playing Stanislas Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open.
    Novak Djokovic reacts to playing Stanislas Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open.Michael Dodge/Getty Images

    The usual faces should be present at this year's edition of the French Open. No. 1 Rafael Nadal, No. 2 Novak Djokovic, No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro and No. 5 David Ferrer will join Stanislas Wawrinka at the top of the draw sheet.

    This won't intimidate Wawrinka.

    He was quoted per NDTVSports.com after his Aussie Open win, saying, "Now I know I can beat everybody. The big stage in a Grand Slam doesn't matter."

    At the moment, Nadal hasn't shown that he is physically ready to attack the French with his typical vigor, despite having recovered so well from knee injuries in the past. If his back is ailing him, and reports have it looking that way, he could be in trouble. Just ask Roger Federer about that particular ailment. And Andy Murray.

    Del Potro's wrist is hurting again, according to Sports Illustrated's Courtney Nguyen, and that portends a difficult spring for him. Ferrer remains the outsider at all major events, never showing that he can threaten the other top players.

    That leaves Djokovic.

    It seems that if Wawrinka knocked him off at the Djokovic-friendly Australian, he can do it again on the clay courts in May.

He Has More Than a Backhand

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    Weak no more, Stanislas Wawrinka uses his forehand at the 2014 Australian Open.
    Weak no more, Stanislas Wawrinka uses his forehand at the 2014 Australian Open.Presse Sports-USA TODAY Sports

    Stanislas Wawrinka has always had a great backhand. Anyone who has followed his career understands that. His forehand, however, has lagged behind that beautiful one-handed stroke.

    But isn't that what was said of Stefan Edberg once upon a time? Brad Gilbert points that out in his book Winning Ugly. Once he raised the level of consistency of his forehand swing, he became a great champion. While Wawrinka may never achieve the Swede's glory, he has certainly overcome the weak forehand rap.

    Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, among others, know that he can't be pushed around the backcourt any longer.

    A key metric to Wawrinka's Australian Open success was the success he had in the medium-length rallies. Against Nadal, he won 52 percent of those duels. Versus Djokovic he managed 44 percent. These are quite solid results from a player who is allegedly a one-trick pony.

    Clearly his forehand is no longer a liability. And the backhand?

    This alone sets him apart from players like Roger Federer, who tend to struggle against perennial French Open favorite Nadal. The one-two punch from Wawrinka should be enough to tilt things in his favor and enable him to find success.

    So looking forward to the European clay-court season, keep these points in mind when evaluating the new No. 3 player's chances. Look for upcoming confidence against the others in the top five, and especially any clashes with Nadal and Djokovic. Watch his medium-to-long rally success this spring.

    If these remain solid, look for a great chance of seeing Stanislas Wawrinka's name on the French Open trophy.