Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe talks about his thoughts during and after his 2015 RG final against Djokovic

Translation of this article from l’Équipe web site, page 24-25 in the print edition of Saturday, 21 May.
First game – Djokovic 0-0 Wawrinka

The first game, it’s serious. We went right at it. To me, it was important. I was super nervous before the match, I had a lot of doubts: ‘Everyone says he’s unplayable. What’s going to happen?’ Once I was on the court, during the warm-up, I tried to take advantage of the situation. I told myself several times: ‘Stan, you’re in the final at Roland-Garros. How often have you dreamed of this? Look at the stadium, look at what’s happening!” In fact, I looked at it as if I were almost having an out-of-body experience. ‘Come on, enjoy! Do your thing!’ I listen to the announcer who’s reading out all of Djokovic’s accomplishments, I look at the crowd to see if they applaud, I look at the sky because it’s a beautiful day …

I sit down on my chair and I switch in a second. It’s easy for me: I can have ten million things going on in my head, but I can switch and concentrate in a second. I’ve done it lots of times. In my chair, I’m already in the first game: ‘How are you going to serve the first point? Are you going to let loose right away? etc.’

I have a very clear game plan, but it’s open to modification. I knew that with him there was no feeling-out round. The proof is the first game. I play incredibly, and yet I’m on serve. Djoko is a machine and the motor is already running.

But, at the end of the first game, everything’s good mentally; physically, I’m fine and I’m not going to lose because of my level of game. It will be played on nerves, hesitations, but not on game feelings. From the very first hit, I feel on top. It’s good, the final has begun …

Djokovic 5-4 Wawrinka – last game of the first set

It’s a key moment. Novak broke me quickly because I was too hesitant. Actually, I haven’t let loose, really get inside him. I have a little mental block. When you’re behind in the score, when you’ve been broken , you always play a bit tighter. You look for something to come back with. But at 5-4, 40-15, I make two points that are essential to the story of the final. First, I make a passing shot. Then I win a point on a dropper. I end up losing the game, and then everything changed for me in my head, but I don’t know why. I feel I’m on the way, I’m there mentally. I needed some sort of small trigger to let loose. I found it there. The match really starts here. It was that game that gave me confidence for the rest ot it. Why? Because I did what I wanted to do at the start of the match. I want to push him, push him, and if he’s stronger than me, good on him. But I tell myself, I’m going to go and get this match. That’s how a lost game can be a release.

Djokovic 6-4 3-4 Wawrinka – at 4-3 in the second set

When I hit the net twice with my racquet, it was the only time I felt frustrated during this final. Why then? Because I’m ahead 4-3, and that since the start of the second set, I feel I have chances to move ahead. And I don’t do it. On the second dropshot, I’m upset because I can’t miss a shot like that when I’m on it. ‘Shit, you’re screwing up, don’t miss shots like that!’

From the start of the second set, I sense him starting to hesitate. If he’s hitting dropshots like that, it’s because he’s not finding answers from the baseline. He’s starting to back up on long rallies. At the start, each tried to impose themselves from the baseline. But I start to hit so hard and heavy that he doesn’t quite know what to do from the baseline. In fact, he’s being dominated, and he needs to change something. That’s true of all players who feel they’re being dominated. So, in the second set, he starts to hit dropshots. In the fourth, he’ll serve-and-volley to save break points.

Sure, I see that as something difficult, but against Djokovic, you always walk a fine line. What I mean to say is, Djokovic is different: even when he isn’t playing as well as usual, he’s always present in the moment. That’s why he’s better than anyone else in the world.

Djokovic 6-4 4-5 Wawrinka – final game of the second set

The sound my shots are making is huge. I’m playing with incredible pace. I saw the speed of my baseline shots: 145 kph, 150 kph, 160 kph … The set point, against a lot of players, I win it five times. But he’s getting all my shots back. At the end of the game, I’m at the point I was looking for: I managed to get ahead. I sense he’s nervous, but I’m not surprised: when I play well, I know I make him nervous. I’ve felt that before at the Australian and US Opens. He can’t be serene; after that game, he knows that I can be the stronger one. But it’s not the turning point of the match. Against him, as long as you haven’t won the final point, there’s no turning point in the strict sense.

That gesture to Magnus where I tap my forefinger on my temple, at the end, that’s just a natural gesture. It just means, “I’m there, I know exactly what I’m doing, I won’t let up mentally.”

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 2-3 — Third set break and the the famous backhand hole shot

At 3-2 in the 3rd set, I hit a huge forehand and a backhand down the line. I start to really open the throttle. On top of that, Novak looks at his team with the air of someone asking, “What do you want me to do?” Later at 5-2, there’s the famous backhand from the corner … I say with all humility, it’s not an unlikely shot. After all, I’m four in the world, I’m the final at Roland, which means I’m playing very well. I see the hole and I go for it. I’m very far from the ball, but I control my slide really well to take the ball really low. It wasn’t lucky, I hit it to make it. Besides, three weeks later at Wimbledon against Verdasco, I did it again.

It’s obvious now, I’m bringing the juice. But, before that hole shot, how many shots was I hitting in that zone at 150 kph? And then, the better you feel the more the ball gets close to the lines. It stays inside the court for a good reason: there’s no hesitation. Now I’m really on top of what I can do. That final, it’s the best match I’ve ever played in my career. I feel like a steamroller that wants to finish the job. Once you release the brakes, once you step on the accelerator you just play. I mean, you play the tennis you know how to play.

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 3-6 3-1 Wawrinka — the break back

I win the second set 6-4, the third set 6-3, and yet I’m behind 3-0 in the 4th! I said it before: against him, you walk a fine line. Instead of going down a level, he adds a level. But he submits anyway. You can hear it in his grunt.  It’s not the same grunt as when he controls a point. The long thirty-shot rally, it’s to show him that I’m not letting up. I feel him tamed physically. His grunt is different – he’s trying to put extra into his shots. Winning that point makes me stronger. I want absolutely to stay in contact in the 4th set.

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 6-3 4-5 – the final game

I’m still on top, but I’m fried. There are long rallies, we hit, we hit, we hit … he starts to serve-and-volley, he’s at the net more often and I hit a passing shot to break him. I make a simple gesture, and in a half-second I’m already in my next service game. I’m very calm. I walk calmly to my seat. No need for a ‘come on’. After, it’s the last game … I’m serving for the match. And when I need to save a break-point, I don’t panic. I tell myself, ‘If that’s the score, it’s because you’re playing better than he is. At the worst, it’s 5-5. And so? Well, we’ll just start over.’ That frame of mind makes the difference. That detail is probably what bests sums up my final. I couldn’t have had a nicer match point to win Roland. Big serve outside, backhand down the line: that point sums up my whole game and the whole 15 days.

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 63 6-4 – The joy and the ceremony

Already before the Melbourne final, I asked myself what I’d do if I won. Roll around on the ground? Lie on the ground? Fall to my knees? And I did nothing. Afterwards, Gaël told me, ‘Shit, Stan! I was waiting for you to do something nuts and you did nothing. I’m crushed!’ I’ll never have an answer, but I think it’s just the way I am. My joy is enormous, but it’s internal. You can’t imagine it, but there are so many things going through my head … It doesn’t come out. And I would dream of rolling around on the clay and having a mythical photo taken. But that’s the way it goes … It’s not because of the way I was brought up, but because of the way I learned my tennis. I never dreamed of winning a Slam. Because I never though I was as good as those who were there. I saw them all on the TV. To me, those who win Slams are monsters. I have a lot of emotions during the ceremony, but it’s the same thing, I don’t show them. Maybe except for when I lift the trophy. Because, still, it’s THE moment.

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Toni Nadal, interviewed in l’Équipe by @djub22, on why he’s worried about the direction modern tennis is taking

From this article online at l’Équipe Julien Reboullet.

Does today’s tennis, the game you see while travelling around the world with your nephew, please you?

–- In general, not very much. I like games of strategy, of skill, not a game for the game’s sake. I like when there’s thought. Thinking a bit, that counts, no?

You think there’s too much hitting?

– In contemporary tennis, we had a long period with a Roger Federer as the best in the world, of course. A fantastic technician. But there’s recently been an evolution towards a very quick game without strategy, where it’s boom boom boom on every point. Today, clay specialists are considered labourers who push the ball back. Then, on the other hand, we have those who just hit shots. But a game that just consists of hitting, that’s baseball!

Isn’t that just an evolution that suits the times?

– I’ve read some books about the civilisation of spectacle. The role of sports in our epoch can’t be compared with its role in Antiquity. Those who attended the Academy (the school of philosophy found by Plato in Athens in the 4th century AD . Ed) understood sports in a very clear manner: physical activity complemented intellectual activity. It developed certain positive aspects of character like effort, discipline, strategy. All that differentiates us from animals, no? Today our sport is moving away from all that.

But why?

– My view is that perhaps the bosses don’t decide who’ll win or be number one, but at least the type of game that will dominate. The rules imposed give direction to the game.

Tennis may have a rule problem?

– The rules of many sports have changed because the size of the athletes has changed, or their power, or their equipment. But I haven’t seen change in tennis. Since the introduction of the tie-break in the 1970’s, I haven’t seen any. The physiques of the players now is nothing like it was twenty years ago. Neither is their equipment. The training intensity is nothing like it was, neither is the professionalism. But the bosses have kept the same difficulties in the game. Which leads to this inconsistency: in what other sport does a point start with a penalty? Because that’s the case in tennis with the serve. The returner looks like a goalkeeper during a series of penalty shots.

But if your nephew Rafael was two metres tall and served at 250 kph, perhaps that would suit you, no?

– Careful! If you think that you’re confusing everything. You’re being personal. What I’m telling you isn’t about Rafael. Whether he’s still playing or isn’t has nothing to do with my way of looking at things. I’m speaking as a spectator who’s thinking about the game in general. Besides, as Rafael’s coach, I don’t want anything to change. He’s won fourteen Slams and has had an extraordinary career with the rules I’m criticising and the evolution I’m regretting. I’m not an idiot! I’m someone who has preferences and isn’t alone.

Which means?

— I’ll put a question to you: which points get the most applause?

The most spectacular ones …

— And? …

In general, the longer rallies …

– Exactly. Do you know which player got the most applause in IPTL matches during its Asian swing last December? Fabrice Santoro! Because he can do everything, a stop volley followed by a lob … everything … Which players do we choose to like: those who can create like him, or a player who just hits everything that moves super hard?

You think that other sports have been better to adapt?

– Obviously. Look how football (soccer) has evolved! At the World Cup in Italy in 1990, what happened? A tonne of matches with very few goals. 1-0 or 1-1 if we were lucky. It was obvious that it was necessary to produce something more entertaining for the spectators. So in the wake of that World Cup, two things were changed: the pass back to the goalkeeper was forbidden and three points for a win – instead of two – were awarded. That changed the quality of the spectacle completely. And who’s the best in football today? The strongest physically? No, the most skilled. Messi, Neymar and others …

You would never go and watch Raonic-Kyrgios, if we follow you properly …

– I’ll go because they’re a part of the present game. But if I weren’t involved in tennis at a high level like I’ve been for more than ten years, it’s certain that I’d would watch a skill player rather than a player who hits. Because I like strategy. In football, a Cristiano? He’s phenomenal, no doubt about that. But I prefer a Messi, or a Xaví, who undoubtedly play with more thought. That’s the way I feel in any case.

After Rafael’s losses to Rosol or Kyrgios at Wimbledon, you let it be understood that their game wasn’t tennis …

– No no no, I never said that. It’s tennis because it’s according to the rules of tennis. I’m saying it’s not a tennis that pleases me, but I didn’t say I was right. I said tennis is getting faster, that hitting winners is getting easier. Like Kyrgios is a super player who could end up number one. Take Zverev, for example. He’s a formidable player with very good control. He’s plays quick and serve hard. Happily, there are still players that control like Djokovic. But I think evolving, adapting is essential in present society. Everything goes so quickly in life. Paying to watch a match without rallies? To me, that’s a poor programme. But I don’t claim to have the absolute truth, heh!

Let’s go back to changes. Toni, what should be changed in tennis?

– There are plenty of things we can change, but we have to choose. To me, we need a change in equipment above all. Before, the racquets had very small heads, which required a much greater mastery of technique. But you need to look at the debate from a larger point of view: what counts is not what I would change, it’s more encompassing. It’s what type of player do we want to watch, what sort of spectacle do we want to offer? And by answering that fundamental question, we can evolve the rules. We criticise the time taken between points, but it’s relative. If that time taken leads to longer rallies rather then 3-4 shot rallies, like the large majority of those we saw at the last Australian Open, who wins by it?

If there were only one serve, for example? …

– I don’t think that would be too radical. We need a more general consideration of the importance of the serve. But, again, I’d prioritise more though about the materials – smaller racquet heads, larger balls or at least less quick, and some other things. The conditions of the game lead to great difficulty in controlling the ball, and I’m including the amateur level there. When you’re playing a sport, why are you doing it? To sweat, to have a good time. In tennis today, you hardly even sweat. And you seldom have a good time. Because the ball goes out too much.

Why not be a part of committees about the future of the game?

(Makes a face) The present leaders have a problem, they’re generally old. Very conservative about changes.

You’re starting your tennis academy in Manacor. What will its philosophy be?

– Apply what the current game tells me, quite simply. If it tells me that you absolutely need to hit hard, than they’ll learn to hit hard.

It’s the world tennis bosses that tell you, in some way, how you form your players?

– Obviously, yes. I see a lot of young players at the academy. Oh my! That hit at 2000 at everything, even without any control. They hit, hit, hit. I’ll adapt to what my sport demands. I’d rather insist on the technique, determination, on how, with your spirit you can overcome technical problems, for example. But if it’s another sort of tennis that works, let’s teach that. After, you risk that people applaud less and less. It’s working right now, because people come to see the personalities and there are phenomenal ones. But never forget they also come to watch a match.

Translated by MAN