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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Stan Wawrinka

"For me, the first thing is to play a match, to play a tennis match again. It's been many months out of the tour," said Stan Wawrinka.

Photo credit: Australian Open Facebook

After enduring the darkest days of his career, Stan Wawrinka is savoring the sun in his Australian Open return.

The 2014 Australian Open champion underwent two knee surgeries last season, spent two months on crutches and has not played a match since losing to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in his Wimbledon opener last July.

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All of those trials and tribulations have infused the three-time Grand Slam champion with gratitude as he aims to launch his comeback in Melbourne.

Wawrinka, who has been practicing at Melbourne Park this week, met with Australian Open ball kids today and spoke optimistically abou bouncing back.

"I'm really, really happy to be back on the Tour and seeing the sun," Wawrinka said. "For me, the first thing is to play a match, to play a tennis match again. It's been many months out of the tour. It's not always the best when you are an athlete so I'm looking forward to it, enjoying the crowd. It’s always an amazing atmosphere here. The people love the sport, love the tennis, so I always enjoy to share that with them.

“Still a lot to do but I'm feeling really positive so looking forward to starting."

The question is: How fit will the 32-year-old Swiss be in his return?

Wawrinka has called the two knee surgeries he underwent last summer “the most difficult months of my career.”

“The first surgery was arthroscopy to have a look at the problem and the second one was to reconstruct the cartilage,” Wawrinka said in an interview last month. “It was very difficult and tough, a big surgery. I needed crutches for eight weeks and lost a lot of muscles because of that.”

In addition to playing on a surgically-reconstructed knee, Wawrinka will launch his comeback without long-time coach Magnus Norman who stepped down at the end of 2017 to spent more time with his family.

"It was a big disappointment, a shock," Wawrinka said last month of Norman’s decision to move on. "In the most difficult moments of a career, one should be able to count on the closest ones."

It’s been a challenging build-up to the Melbourne major with five-time finalist Andy Murray, reigning champion Serena Williams, two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka and Kei Nishikori all out of the field.

That’s another reason why Wawrinka’s presence in Melbourne is an encouraging sight to tournament organizers.

“There's been a lot of questions and in fact this is the first time publicly in six months that he's said anything, so we are excited that he agreed to come here and do it with the ball kids," Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said. "So he's ready to play. I've watched him practice.”

How will Wawrinka’s knee hold up to the rigors of best-of-five set matches, particularly given the 2017 Roland Garros runner-up has not played a match in six months?

"Obviously to play best-of-five-set matches and to play seven of them in two weeks, he'd need to have a lot of things go his way,” Tiley said. “But, as he indicated this morning, he will be ready to play and it's great to see him out here.”


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