Stanislas Wawrinka is ready to take off now.
Wawrinka pulled out of the Portugal Open, which begins April 28. However, he is expected to play in Rome and Madrid. When he returns to the clay he will do so with a little less burden, way more swagger.
Last week, Wawrinka finally shook the Roger Federer monkey off his back. Before defeating the 17-time Grand Slam champion in Monte Carlo, Wawrinka was 1-13 against Federer. With the No. 3 ranking and the Swiss No. 1 designation on the line, Wawrinka beat Federer in a tight three-setter.
What changed? Wawrinka has long been talented enough to defeat Federer. But up until this year, he never believed.
He does now. You can see it in the fearless way he plays. He powers through groundstrokes with more purpose. He plays the big points better. Most importantly, this year he's taken out the three winningest players on tour.
He defeated Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer in crucial matches in big tournaments.
In a post-match interview published by Sports Illustrated, Wawrinka noted his improved confidence against the top players. ”When I go into a match against them, I think I can beat them. I’m on the court to win. ... I’m more consistent and I have better results. The difference is that now I have more trust in myself.”
Even Federer acknowledged Wawrinka's transformation. Prior to the match in Monte Carlo, Federer dismissed his head-to-head advantage over Wawrinka. Quoted by ASAP Sports, Federer stated, "I don't read that much into it. He's a different caliber player now."
Psychologically, beating Federer was probably tougher than taking out Djokovic or Nadal. Federer is a tennis legend. He's also Wawrinka's friend.
You sensed that in the Monte Carlo final. Wawrinka and Federer came out flat and produced some pretty poor play early on.
Later, after they settled, Wawrinka was back to flinging that one-handed backhand freely. Of course, Federer has a mighty sweet one-handed backhand too. However, right now, Wawrinka's is deadlier.
Once eclipsed by Federer's shadow, Wawrinka is ranked higher and playing better than his compatriot. Before winning the Australian Open, Wawrinka was that other Swiss guy. He played Federer's sidekick, tagging along for leftover glory. But after defeating Nadal, Wawrinka took center stage.
All of a sudden, Federer is tagging alongside Wawrinka. The two are playing doubles again. They are taking selfies and it's Wawrinka hanging around for post-tournament media sessions.
Although he has a less than stellar career record on clay, Wawrinka is 4-0 on the surface this year.
The surprise superstar of the season, Wawrinka crashed that exclusive party the so-called Big Four were having on tour. Now it's "Stanimal," the party animal, chowing down on the competition.