Earlier this week in Indian Wells, Stan Wawrinka was asked how he had managed to win two straight razor-close, brilliantly-played matches, each in a third-set tiebreaker.
“I think it’s a little bit experience,” Wawrinka said, “a little bit the confidence, a little bit thinking about what you want to do and just do it.”
Anyone who has seen Wawrinka respond to a question at a press conference could imagine him leaning forward and shrugging his shoulders as he answered this one, as if to say, “It’s really not all that complicated.”
These days, after 14 years on tour, with three major titles under his belt and a career-high No. 3 ranking, winning seems less complicated than ever for Wawrinka. He’ll turn 32 at the end of this month, but he has shown no signs of age at all. So far this year he’s 11-3, has reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and has now made his first final in Indian Wells after 10 tries.
If anything, Wawrinka, who has only won one Masters title—and had never reached the final of one on hard courts before Saturday—looks like he’s just getting started. With each season, he does something he’s never done before, and seemed unlikely ever to do. In 2014, at 28, he won the Australian Open in his first Slam final. In 2015, at 30, he played the tennis of his life to upset Novak Djokovic and win his first French Open. And last summer he beat Djokovic again in his first U.S. Open final. Now, after a decade of frustration and mediocrity on the U.S. spring hard-court swing—Wawrinka had never been past the quarters in Indian Wells or Miami—he has suddenly decided that he can’t lose in the desert.
That’s the way Wawrinka gets some weeks. With his slugging style, he’ll always have his off days, but if he can wriggle through one of them, he’ll start to believe he can wriggle through all of them. In the fourth round on Tuesday, Yoshihito Nishioka served for the match twice, but Wawrinka pushed the third set to a tiebreaker, and Stan’s first-strike style makes him deadly in breakers. In his next match, he survived a spectacular ground-stroke barrage from Dominic Thiem, and eventually threaded his way through another deciding breaker. By Saturday, Wawrinka was at the peak of his confidence and his powers, as he dismissed Pablo Carreño Busta, 6-3, 6-2, in a little more than an hour.
By now, Stan has learned to recognize when he has an opportunity to do something new.