It was one of those days for Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday. He looked like he’d rather be anywhere other than where he was: Across a net from a lean and hungry 18-year-old named Borna Coric, who had won the first set of their match at the Western & Southern Open and was threatening to do the same in the second. Wawrinka was moving sluggishly, spraying shots, and trudging from point to point as if the next one might be his last. The heavy gray skies passing over Mason, Ohio, seemed to mirror his mood.

“For sure I was struggling today to be completely on the court and to fight the way I wanted,” Wawrinka said.

Just when he appeared ready to call it a week and trudge on to New York, Wawrinka did decide to fight. As the second set continued and young Coric failed to put him out of his misery, Wawrinka brought out a fist-pump here and shouted a “Come on!” there, and when he threaded his way through a second-set tiebreaker, he vented with a long, “Yeah!” Wawrinka was, finally, “completely on the court,” and he would go on to win 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3.

“It was really important to win this match today,” Wawrinka said. “It was not the way I played on the court, but the way I fight with little energy that I have. That’s the most important.”

For a couple of hours, Wawrinka had turned the tennis court into a refuge from his personal life. That's exactly what it hadn’t been for him last week in Montreal. There Nick Kyrgios, as everyone knows, made Wawrinka’s personal life very public. But it wasn’t the first time it had happened to Wawrinka in 2015. In April, after he announced that he was separating from his wife, Ilham, she issued a stinging statement of her own, in order, she said, to clarify the circumstances.

Seeking Refuge

Seeking Refuge


Wawrinka’s results suffered during that time. He lost to Grigor Dimitrov in desultory fashion in Monte Carlo, and went out early to him again the following week in Madrid. But as May turned to June in Paris, Wawrinka blocked out all distractions and played the best tennis of his career to win the French Open.

Kyrgios’s crude attack, though, coming as it did in the middle of a match and in front of the world, was more stunning. There was no way for Stan to block it out that night in Montreal, and he ended up retiring from the match.

“They were not just a few words,” Wawrinka said of Kyrgios' actions yesterday. “With one sentence, he can touch and hurt a lot of people. I had a lot of support in the locker room, that’s for sure.”

ATP players, led by Wawrinka’s fellow Slam champs Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal, have lined up behind the popular 30-year-old, and firmly against the 20-year-old Kyrgios, the tour’s new resident villain. The younger crowd has also taken Wawrinka’s side. Ryan Harrison sounded like he wanted to “deck” the Australian Davis Cup team in response, and Thanasi Kokkinakis, one of the off-stage principles in this drama, was seen pointing to his temple, Stan-style, after winning a big point this week.

The tour, so far, has listened. It fined Kyrgios the maximum $10,000 allowed, and said in a statement that “he has been served with a ‘notice of investigation,’ which begins a process to determine if his actions also constitute a violation of the Player Major Offense provisions.”

“There was a lot of anger in the locker room about what he did,” Wawrinka said. “As a player, you realize more what he did and what is the consequences for the private lives of people involved.”

It’s hardly a surprise that Stan’s fellow pros have condemned Kyrgios. They also find the upstart’s antics distracting on the court, and they obviously don’t want their own personal business aired in public. That’s an unwritten rule of any sporting league, including this golden, “gentlemanly” era of tennis. Any talk that Kyrgios is “good for the game” is off the table for the foreseeable future. He’s given the term “bad boys,” which some of us have wished for more of in recent years, a bad name again.

“We’re not used to that kind of talk in tennis,” Federer said, regretting that Kyrgios’s actions weren’t “great for the sport, one that I think many players have tried to build up and make it a good image, build up a good image.”

Seeking Refuge

Seeking Refuge

Yesterday, Wawrinka stoked the Kyrgios bonfire by telling reporters that, contrary to the Aussie’s own account, he hasn’t said he's sorry.

“He didn’t really apologize to the people [involved],” Wawrinka said. “He should. That’s it. That simple.”

Wawrinka himself will try to move on again on Thursday, when he faces Ivo Karlovic. Blocking out off-court distractions while watching aces fly past him won’t be easy, but Stan insists he’ll be in good shape for the big tournament down the road.

“I know how to get ready for a Grand Slam,” he said. “I know how to deal with everything. I’m sure I’m going to be ready for the U.S. Open.”

Can Wawrinka repeat his Paris performance in New York? That’s a big ask. For now, he’ll be happy to make the court into a refuge again.