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By Chris Oddo

Stan Wawrinka, Oeiras, 2013 (May 9, 2013) -- So close, but yet so far. That has been, like it or not, the theme of Stan Wawrinka’s 2013 season. Maybe his career, too.

But despite all the hard luck and bad bounces, and all the merciless drubbings that he’s suffered at the hands of the world’s top three players (he’s a combined 3-33 against Djokovic, Nadal and Federer and 0-6 against them in Grand Slams), the Swiss No. 2, whose ranking peaked at No. 9 in the world on June 9, 2008, appears to be undergoing a renaissance at this very moment.

Oeiras: Wawrinka Wallops Ferrer for Portugal Title

Is Stan Wawrinka going to rule the world? Probably not. The soft-spoken 28-year-old is not the power monger type. Does he have the potential, if not to rule, to at least shake the world by its tail for a few tournaments? One look at his effortlessly assertive game and the mind-boggling mixture of power and angle that he creates almost matter-of-factly, and it’s hard to answer that question with a no.

Wawrinka, who came within a whisker of ending a personal 10-match losing streak against Novak Djokovic in what most consider to be the match of 2013 at this year’s Australian Open, has played some resplendent tennis in 2013. He’s been better than his 22-8 record indicates, and even though he’s suffered some excruciating losses—the Djokovic defeat, the seven hour and one minute doubles loss to Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol in Davis Cup, and his 11th straight defeat at the hands of Roger Federer that ended 7-5 in the third set at Indian Wells come to mind—Wawrinka has held his head high and pressed on valiantly despite the tough luck.

“It’s almost like maturity and experience is going to be the best news for him,” Tennis TV commentator Chris Wilkinson opined during the telecast of Wawrinka’s victory over Santiago Giraldo on Wednesday. “Over the years he’s maybe lost a lot of big matches which have made a big difference to his ranking, like the match against Djokovic at the Australian Open. Even though he lost that I think he kind of proved to himself that he can mix with these big boys… I just get the feeling that his belief is much higher than it used to be and I think it’s going to be a good year for Stan.”

After a string of bitter disappointments that saw Wawrinka emerge as a sympathetic figure in tennis circles, the Lausanne, Switzerland native’s fortunes got a little rosier last week when he won his first title in over two years at Oeiras. Of his four career titles, it was Wawrinka’s first win in a final over a player inside the top ten. Wawrinka avenged a loss in the Buenos Aires final to David Ferrer by shellacking the dirtball guru in straight sets. It was a convincing display by Wawrinka, one that raised more than a few eyebrows.

If Wawrinka can be that convincing against Ferrer on clay, what else might he be capable of in 2013?

As good as he is, there are some that refuse to acknowledge that he’s anything other than a poor man’s Roger Federer. It’s not at all true, but the Swiss heritage that Wawrinka shares with Federer seems to have some confused.

During the awards ceremony after his title-clinching victory over Ferrer, rather than let Wawrinka bask in the glory of the moment, the Portugal Open’s organizers asked him, rather inappropriately, about Roger Federer. Why not let Wawrinka have his a moment outside of Federer’s shadow once in a while? Just because he’s from the same country as the GOAT does it mean he his every achievement has to be compared to those of Federer’s?

Wawrinka certainly doesn’t want that—who would? Hours after the match, Wawrinka retweeted tweets from his supporters that questioned the tackiness of the Portugal Open’s organizers. Let Stan have his moment, was their message.

With a few more dominant performances like the one in Portugal, Wawrinka may finally find his way to step out from under Federer’s colossal shadow. It sure would help if he could end his run of 11 straight losses against the Swiss maestro, or if he could find himself on the winning end of a classic match against a top three player.

Based on the way he’s performed thus far this year, neither seems improbable. And now that Wawrinka has signed on to work with in-demand coach Magnus Norman on a trial basis during the Grand Slams, expect him to be fitter, and more professional than he has ever been. If Norman can do for Wawrinka what he’s been able to do for Robin Soderling and now Grigor Dimitrov, watch out shadow.

Wawrinka’s best days may have yet to come. Retooled with confidence, mental toughness and the wisdom of his years, he may step into the light sooner than you think.

(Photo Credit: AP)


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