Semifinal preview Swiss stars do battle

Semifinal preview Swiss stars do battle

At the business end of a Grand Slam once again, everything is ticking along superbly for the quiet-achieving Stan Wawrinka.

Even as he considers that he next faces the mighty Roger Federer across the court.

“It’s always been different in my career when I played against Roger,” said Wawrinka as he prepared to meet his close friend and country man in Thursday night’s semifinal.

“When I step on the court, it’s always something special because he’s the best player, because of every thing he is done in his career, because the way he’s playing, because he’s Swiss, because he’s a really close friend, because of everything we have been (through) together.”

Semifinal preview Swiss stars do battle

Claiming the game’s most significant prizes with Federer as a teammate – including an Olympic gold medal in doubles in 2008 and Switzerland’s lone Davis Cup title in 2014 – Wawrinka understands the mentality required to book his place in a fourth Grand Slam final.

  • Wawrinka Said:                                                                                                                                                                               “Most important is that I try as much as I can to focus on myself, that I step on the court to try to win, to try to find a way how to win the match,”

That’s a tougher task than many would have imagined a fortnight or so ago. Federer has gone from sentimental favourite to a genuine favourite at Australian Open 2017, surging to an unlikely semifinal despite his six-month absence through injury.
The more senior Swiss, who has four Australian Opens among his record 17 Grand Slam titles, has managed every challenge presented in Melbourne with typical aplomb: a pair of qualifiers were dismissed, the No.10 seed Tomas Berdych easily sent off, No.5 Nishikori was managed in five testing sets and a potentially complicated match-up with Mischa Zverev was made to look easy.

“I think winning back-to-back matches in best-of-five sets against quality, great players. Really that’s been for me the big question mark, if I could do that so early in my comeback,” said the world No.17 Federer, who dropped to his lowest ranking in more than 15 years during his injury absence.

“I felt I was always going to be dangerous on any given day in a match situation. But obviously as the tournament would progress, maybe I would fade away with energy, you know, that kind of stuff.

“I think now that I’m in the semis, feeling as good as I am, playing as good as I am, that’s a huge surprise to me.”

Wawrinka understands the difficulties that such momentum presents. “He’s playing so well since the beginning of the tournament. He had a little bit some hesitation in the two first rounds, but since that he’s really flying on the court,” he noted.

Semifinal preview Swiss stars do battle

Adding to the task for the No.4 seed is a dramatically lopsided head-to-head record in his opponent’s favour. In 21 matches, Wawrinka has managed just three wins against Federer: at Monte Carlo in 2009, the final of that same event in 2014 and in his progression to the French Open title in 2015.

Still, Wawrinka notes he’s a far different player than when he often lost to Federer earlier in his career. Replicating patterns in his three winning Grand Slam runs, the 2014 champion has steadily improved over the course of the event: opening with a five-set test against Martin Klizan, all but one of his four wins since has been secured in straight sets.

“I’m more confident with myself,” Wawrinka pointed out after his uncomplicated quarterfinal dismissal of 2008 runner-up, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. “When I step on the court, doesn’t matter who I play, I know what I have to do if I want to win.”

Federer also disregards any advantage in the winning record against his countryman.

“Like a lot of guys, I was able to play them when they were young, which is, I guess, for the head-to-head an advantage. I don’t care much about head-to-heads in general because I feel like every day’s a different matchup,” he noted.

“He’s become such a good player … He’s always been a believer that he can do it.”

Interestingly, it’s Federer himself who boosted his countryman’s progress, being regularly on hand when the younger Wawrinka called on him for advice.

“What I like with Stan is if I would tell him something, I felt like he was able to do it,” he said. “That showed me that he’s a great player, that he’s got a mind of somebody who understands what I’m trying to explain him.”

The younger Swiss – who credits coach Magnus Norman in his rise to three Grand Slam titles – eventually started figuring things out for himself.

“He called me less and less. I also felt like I didn’t tell him anymore, because he created his knowledge, his base, had his team,” said Federer. “I was happy that he was able to let go and go on his own path.”

The gains that Wawrinka achieved alongside Federer will undoubtedly be evident as the players compete for a 22nd time but the most important lesson may also be the most difficult to implement.

  • If here was ever a time to set sentiment aside, it’s in their high-stakes semifinal – and that’s as true for Federer as it is for the younger Swiss.

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