US Open 2016

'Fifth man' Wawrinka closes in

Stan Wawrinka is all fired up after winning the second set to level the US Open final against Novak Djokovic. The world No. 1 calls him a big-game player, as the Swiss has won all three Grand Slam finals, twice beating the Serb, and also his last 11
Stan Wawrinka is all fired up after winning the second set to level the US Open final against Novak Djokovic. The world No. 1 calls him a big-game player, as the Swiss has won all three Grand Slam finals, twice beating the Serb, and also his last 11 finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Swiss shows he can hold court with Big 4, beating Djokovic to tie Murray at 3 Slams

NEW YORK • Late-blooming Stan Wawrinka is playing tennis with the passion of a youngster and it paid off on Sunday with a third Grand Slam title at the US Open.

The 31-year-old may never have the cachet of the so-called "Big Four" - Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - but he is ready to give them a hard fight every chance he gets.

Now boasting as many Grand Slam titles as world No. 2 Murray, Wawrinka is not planning to slow down, and he seemed a bit affronted that anyone might think he should.

"I'm 31 years old," the Swiss said when asked why he was not looking towards retirement. "What do you want me to do? Just go to the beach? Not do anything?

"Did you ask that question to Rafa also or to Andy?"

Then he showed just how much he has left in the tank, capping a draining fortnight with a 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 championship victory over world No. 1 Djokovic.

Wawrinka emerged from the shadow of superstar compatriot Federer with his Australian Open triumph in 2014.

He backed up that breakthrough with a victory over Djokovic in last year's French Open final.

With an elegant one-handed backhand and bullish refusal to back down, the Swiss has established himself as one of the biggest threats on the game's biggest stages.

Tattooed on his left forearm are the words of Irish poet Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

And Wawrinka's late-career success is his reward for years of perseverance. He lost 14 times in a row before triumphing over Djokovic en route to his Australian Open title.

He went a dozen matches without taking a set off Nadal until beating him in that championship match in Melbourne.

In reaching his first US Open final - after semi-final exits in 2013 and 2015 - Wawrinka had saved a match point in a gritty five-set win over unheralded Dan Evans, held off 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro in four sets and rallied for a four-set win over 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori.

There was no mystery to what drove him through nearly 18 punishing hours on court to reach the final - plus four more on Sunday.

It is the same engine that drives him at an age when many are thinking of winding down their careers.

"I love my sport," Wawrinka says. "It's my passion. It's an amazing feeling to be out there."

Following his US Open triumph, it may finally be time to officially expand the "Big Four" in men's tennis to the "Big Five". Certainly he gets Djokovic's vote for inclusion.

"He deserves to be in the mix, no doubt about it," said the Serb. "Stan won three Grand Slams now and three different ones; (an) Olympic medal (doubles gold with Federer in 2008). (He has) been around for so many years, and he plays best in the big matches."

Wawrinka may be the ultimate big-game player in men's tennis. When he gets to a championship match, the Swiss is money in the bank, winning his last 11 finals.

Wawrinka, though, insisted he was not in the same class as the Big Four and would not expect to join the club any time soon.

"The Big Four, I'm really far from them," he said. "Just look at the tournaments they won, how many years they have been there... That's why I'm not there. I don't want to be there."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline ''Fifth man' Wawrinka closes in'. Print Edition | Subscribe