July 9, 2020
Five years ago today, Stan Wawrinka had his best chance to reach a Wimbledon semi-final.
In fact that week was probably his best chance to win Wimbledon – period.
Stan the Man, looking to complete the set. On this day he produced some memorable magic.
On this day the dream also passed him by.
So many of us have wanted Wawrinka to complete the Career Slam.
Somehow sporting justice has always demanded the highest reward for the source of the most explosive, pugnacious strokeplay you could ever wish to see on a tennis court.
Generated by a man who at first glance doesn’t even seem to possess the frame of a top tennis player.
But he is one. With all the athleticism to match. In fact Wawrinka at his combative best is sporting poetry in motion.
And poets of our sport should win Wimbledon.
It stands to reason. Great poets of any description should claim the greatest prize of all in their particular field.
So far it hasn’t quite happened for Stan. Maybe Wimbledon 2021 will see Wawrinka do something special and truly enduring on grass.
You can’t blame anyone for hoping it happens. With respect to the three current greats of our game, they have tasted Wimbledon glory time and again.
Wawrinka has never quite believed in himself enough at the All England Club. He has never had enough faith in his own versatility to translate his sublime skills onto the grassy stage.
But we remember five years ago. Even if it didn’t result in another step towards glory for the brilliant Swiss.
On this day at Wimbledon 2015, Stan could have given himself a serious shot at the elusive title.
And talking of shots, that beautiful single-handed backhand is why Wawrinka has thrilled so many of us like no other player can.
Remember how that lethal weapon took the great Novak Djokovic apart on the day Wawrinka won the French Open?
Make no mistake, that was Djokovic at the height of his powers.
To beat him, Stan needed to play like superman. And he did!
Five times in the last three games of that epic French Open final, Wawrinka flashed the backhand blade and ripped his revered opponent apart.
That’s no disrespect to Djokovic. When the Serb is on song, it takes something from the tennis gods to beat him.
Wawrinka possessed a divine backhand and the bravery to match that afternoon at Roland Garros.
He won the Australian and US Opens thanks to that same explosive shot.
The exquisite fearlessness of a high-risk, single-handed backhand executed to perfection. That is Wawrinka’s trademark.
And we were lucky enough to see the brutal beauty of that carefree swish, unleashed many a time on this day at Wimbledon in 2015.
Had Wawrinka won, he would have faced Djokovic in the semi-final. A tall order at Wimbledon.
But if anyone could have tamed Novak at the business end of Wimbledon, Wawrinka had the artillery and the know-how to do so.
The man who did eventually face Djokovic in that semi-final was perhaps less equipped to turn the tables.
So who was that man? Who took away Wawrinka’s dream when the extraordinary Stan was finally in full flow at Wimbledon?
Take a bow, Richard Gasquet. And wasn’t it fitting that a player possessing a backhand to rival Wawrinka’s should have toppled him?
Gasquet supporters and all Frenchmen will feel the best man won. They’re not wrong.
On this day five years ago, Gasquet and his backhand didn’t just equal Wawrinka and his world-famous shot.
Gasquet ultimately eclipsed all the lovely things Wawrinka had to offer on Court No1.
No one can argue, for that it what the scoreline tells us. In an absolute classic, Gasquet ultimately prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 11-9.
Wawrinka had break point at 9-9 in the fifth but Richard held his nerve. Fluent and resilient that day, Gasquet took his chance in that final-set war of attrition.
No one is trying to suggest that Gasquet didn’t fully deserve his semi-final place against Djokovic.
The fact that Novak won Wimbledon that year tells you all you need to know about what happened next, though.
And even if Wawrinka had beaten Gasquet, Djokovic would still have been favourite to take him down on grass.
But those of us with a soft spot for Wawrinka will remember how rampant he was in sets two and three. We will remember the chance he had to fulfil his destiny.
Above all, we will delight in Stan’s brilliance that day on his least-favoured surface of grass.
We will recall sensing that Wawrinka really could win Wimbledon – if only he believed he could.
That feeling of complete fluency and unbridled joy at the prospect of Stan fulfilling his potential didn’t last.
Gasquet was on fire that day.
For Stan Wawrinka, there is still time. Wimbledon 2021 gives him another chance.
Come on Stan, before it is too late. Play with all your spectacular sporting beauty at Wimbledon next year!
Your career demands it. That outrageous, sizzling bullet of a backhand deserves the ultimate prize in tennis.
We’ll be there to see you give it a go with all guns blazing.