Invaluable tennis resource Tennisabstract.com gives eighth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka a 26.5% chance to win Sunday’s French Open Final versus top-seed Novak Djokovic. The site is rarely wrong, and the all-important eye test also gave Nole the ridiculous edge coming into this year’s Roland Garros. My favorite aspect of every one of his clay court titles dating back to last year is when he erupts into a volcanic yell, the grueling journey to a career Grand Slam becoming that much more tangible title after title. On clay, he’s won his last sixteen matches, faltering last when he was on this very stage. So why should we give Stan a legitimate chance?
This piece was in the works before Novak’s lengthy five-set semifinal win over Andy Murray, meaning freshness only tilts the scales further into Stan’s favor. The eye test now forces you to blink a bit, but the numbers force a look in the other direction. The Swiss player’s ascent into the top-10 began in 2013, so condensing the analysis to 2013-present matches makes the most sense. Over that seven-match span, Wawrinka is a discouragingly 1-6, but his play over this fortnight elicits more than just a glimmer of hope. All the matches the two men played in Grand Slam tournaments went the distance, with two going into extended fifth sets. The rest mentioned above is crucial if this trend holds.
II. Stan’s Serve
Novak Djokovic might be the game’s best returner, but neutralizing returns don’t have any affect when aces are a plenty. The lone head-to-head win since 2013, in the 2014 Australian Open Quarterfinals, came courtesy of a whopping 10.0% ace rate. Similarly impressive numbers have been put up during this Grand Slam campaign, rifling 15 versus Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the semifinals. What’s most important, however, is sustained success on the serve front. In that Aussie Open quarterfinal, 72.4% of his made first serves were won, as were 50.0% of second serves. In France, the numbers have been gaudy: ranging from 70%-93% on the first serve, and 51%-62% on the second serve. If long points become the norm, the match immediately sways in Nole’s favor, but this serve line suggests Stan’s powerful game could penetrate even on the clay.
Stanislas Wawrinka has nothing to lose. Sure, he’s going for his second Grand Slam title in as many years, but Novak is playing a legacy match. He’s always chased Rafa and Roger, and adding a career Grand Slam to his resume would bolster his credentials to be in that greatest of all time conversation. Though it’s well documented that players are peaking later in their careers, winning the French would make him the second-oldest man to hoist the career Grand Slam, only trailing Andre Agassi. Time isn’t running out, but the pressure is always on. His hiccups against Jarkko Nieminen in the first round all the way to being unable to close out Andy Murray in three sets showcased the worst of Novak getting in his own head. The destruction of Nadal is no doubt a positive, but Wawrinka has shown throughout this tournament the ability to grab the momentum and relentlessly hold on to it. Without any pressure, this becomes a dangerous prospect.
In words I never thought I’d be writing, Stanislas Wawrinka will win his second Grand Slam at the French Open. I give Novak the edge in 2016, but he needs this fall to remove the lack of concentration he’s lapsed into this tournament. The score line: 6-4, 6-7 (8), 7-6(6), 6-2.