A great first week ended with a dreadfully dismal effort for Stanislas Wawrinka against Roger Federer. Where does the Swiss go from here?
After scorching opponents for four consecutive matches at the Australian Open, Stan Wawrinka found himself across from the net from a very familiar face on Tuesday in Melbourne.
It was the quarterfinals, for a chance to reach a career-best Slam result, and there he was, warming up with his mentor, his sometimes doubles partner, his good friend — Roger Federer.
There was a certain swagger about Wawrinka this week. The normally subdued and succinct Swiss was a little more boisterous, a little more aggressive, and a lot more confident. He had rolled through a difficult draw, making Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick look feckless as he kept them dangling on a string at the baseline, hitting scorching backhands from corner to corner and releasing guttural warcries at critical junctures of matches.
But that all changed today, and with it our perception of Wawrinka — his chances to return to the top-10 for the first time since September of 2008 notwithstanding — changed as well.
What kind of a man is Wawrinka?
Sure, we know what kind of a talent he is. He's skilled in pretty much every facet of the game, he's smooth, he's powerful, and he's gaining in experience and belief, but is he up for the task of standing toe-to-toe with the best of the game at this point in his career?
Many are now asking these same questions after watching Stan self destruct against Federer today. It wasn't that Wawrinka was defeated. It wasn't even that he played poorly. Those things are fine, they're acceptable. What was concerning about Wawrinka's dud of a performance today is that he seemed to lose interest early and never get it back.
Gone was the bad-ass Wawrinka who was scalping the field and in his place was a timid self-conscious kid who has played his career in the shadow of one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
Some thought that today might have been the day for Wawrinka to step out of that shadow and make a name for himself. Maybe Wawrinka himself thought it too. He certainly had reason to believe that his polished form would be good enough to push Federer and maybe even good enough to score the shocking upset.
It's all the more reason to be confounded by how he gave up on himself so quickly. He was disinterested. Downtrodden. Defeated. And as the match wore on his look of hopelessness only grew. He was the poster boy for how not to respond to a challenge.
Wawrinka was quick to point out that there was nothing that he could do in his post match presser. "For sure you look [at] the match from outside you don't see how good he was playing. But he was always giving me some answer and he was just being too good for me," said Wawrinka.
Stan went on to answer a plethora questions about Federer, while the press basically ignored the fact that his efforts were so uninspired that ESPN's commentators spent the last half of the match homing in on the fact. When he finally smashed a racquet it was clear that it was more of a symbolic gesture than a sign of life.
Today, there was nothing there.
The shadow of Federer is too big for Wawrinka. It's clear from his comments and it was painfully clear from his effort today. His seventh loss in eight matches vs. Federer was a snoozefest of epic proportions.
Stan is too good of a player to sit back and be Roger Federer's punching bag. He's coming into is own as a player, and he's growing in confidence. Or at least he was, until he took the court today.
Now, it's not so clear anymore. After a setback like this who knows what kind of year Stan Wawrinka will have. He's got the game to make a run at the top, but so do a lot of players. He'll have to cultivate the belief before he can go higher. A valiant effort — win or lose — would have helped that belief.
Now doubt is creeping in. His perfect start to the year detoriated today. It vanished into thin air, into a vacuum.
There's still time to erase the doubt, but it will take a bigger eraser now.