NEW YORK (AP) — Stan Wawrinka was about 2 1/2 hours removed from winning the U.S. Open for his third major championship when he was presented with a question he probably was figuring would be coming.
The gist: After adding this trophy to those from the Australian Open in 2014, and the French Open in 2015, is it time to focus on completing a career Grand Slam by winning Wimbledon in 2017?
Wawrinka ran his left hand through his hair, rubbed his eyes and smiled.
“So what? Are you saying next year I focus only on Wimbledon? There is no plan. The only plan is trying to push myself the maximum to be the best player I can,” Wawrinka said Sunday night. “I’m not good enough to start and say, ‘OK, I’m going to win a Grand Slam this year.’ No.”
Well, actually, Stan, you sure seem to be at this point. And that 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 1-ranked and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final on Sunday night was only the latest evidence.
Wawrinka might have won a French Open junior title as a teenager, but it sure took him a while to show that sort of talent at the elite level. So long in the shadow of his Swiss countryman and close friend Roger Federer, Wawrinka did not reach a Grand Slam semifinal until age 28, in his 35th appearance at one of his sport’s four most prestigious events.
Now, though, Wawrinka has won three majors over the past three seasons, pulling even with Andy Murray. Since the 2005 French Open, Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have won 39 of 47 Grand Slam trophies. Only Wawrinka and Murray also have multiple titles in that span.
So it’s clear that the third-ranked Wawrinka now must be seen among the cream of the crop in men’s tennis and a threat at all big tournaments moving forward. He is, after all, 3-0 in major finals, and has won 11 consecutive finals overall.
“He hits a very heavy ball, especially from the backhand corner. Forehand is very flat. You know, he goes for his shots from the forehand side. Backhand, you know, great chip, great slice. He uses that when he’s defending and then he comes up and can get you off the court with a backhand crosscourt. That’s probably one of the best shots in the game,” Djokovic said. “Physically, he’s very strong, so he can endure a lot.”
Wawrinka has never made it past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and lost in the second round there this year to the resurgent Juan Martin del Potro.
So what about Wimbledon? What might he be able to do there? He added 1996 champion Richard Krajicek as a coaching consultant on grass this season to help with volleying, so he is definitely interested in improving at the All England Club.
“I’m trying. I’m trying every year to improve. I’m trying every year to find solutions,” Wawrinka said. “I didn’t play my best tennis yet there. Hopefully it will come.”
Here is what else we learned during the 2016 U.S. Open:
KERBER IS NO. 1: It becomes official on Monday when the new WTA rankings are released, but Angelique Kerber clinched her debut at No. 1 after the U.S. Open semifinals, then showed it’s definitely justified by winning her second Grand Slam title of the season. The 28-year-old German had never been so much as a finalist at a major until this season, but made three such runs, winning the Australian Open and finishing as the runner-up at Wimbledon, before dropping only one set at Flushing Meadows. Once known mainly as a counter-puncher, Kerber has become more aggressive during points, became more dedicated to raising her fitness, and worked with a mental coach to rise to the top. At 28, she is the oldest woman to reach No. 1, but her skills and stamina could keep her in the mix for a while.
SERENA WILLIAMS: There was a lot of speculation about whether there is a changing of the guard in women’s tennis, now that Serena Williams’ record-tying 186-week streak at No. 1 is over after a semifinal loss to Karolina Pliskova. Williams turns 35 this month, so some are ready to write her off. Not so fast. Don’t forget that she has fared no worse than the semifinals at each of the past nine majors, including a Wimbledon title and two runner-up finishes this year.
FEDERER AND NADAL: After ruling tennis for so long, Federer and Nadal didn’t win a major title in 2015 or 2016, and neither was a factor at Flushing Meadows (Nadal lost in the fourth round; Federer missed the tournament while he rehabs his surgically repaired left knee). Federer is 35; Nadal is 30 and injured more often than not lately.
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