When you’re asked to name a champion from Switzerland who plays right-handed and swings that backhand with one arm, chances are your answer will be Roger Federer. And why not? With 17 major trophies that adorn his palatial home with wife Mirka and their two sets of twins (two girls and two boys), when you combine the words “Swiss” and “tennis,” it’s almost always two initials: RF.
Well, not last Sunday. Not when the Serbian world number one named Novak Djokovic was ready to be crowned champion but lost. Novak was on a 28-match winning streak. He hadn’t lost the entire clay court season, winning in Monte Carlo and Rome. In the quarterfinals of the French Open, he embarrassed the 9-time champion Rafael Nadal. Two afternoons later, he met Andy Murray and defeated the Scot in five sets. The only piece of shiny hardware missing from his collection was the one they don’t sell in Paris. Because you have to earn a Roland Garros trophy.
Facing Stanislas Wawrinka in the finals two days ago, Djokovic won the first set. He was 90 minutes and just two sets away from completing a career Grand Slam. Until Stan concocted a mix of powerful Federer-like winners that bewildered Novak. At day’s end, it was a lopsided display of power tennis: While Novak connected on 30 winners, Stan smothered 60.
This wasn’t the first time that Wawrinka was seeded 8th and expected to lose in the championship round. In January of last year, he was such a sure-to-be runner-up that Nadal fans already dreamt of their Spanish maestro winning the Australian Open. Stan stunned Rafa in four sets.
Last Sunday was a replica: he was No. 8 facing No. 1 with the top-seed an almost-undefeated player this 2015. The result? The same shocker: Stan stuns Novak in four.
I got to see the Swiss the other week. After his match against Dusan Lajovic, I entered the press room and was seated on the third row, about 15 feet away from the small stage arranged with one seat ready. Stan enters the room with no fuss. He’s no mega-star in Paris like a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or a Gael Monfils. In fact, en route to winning seven matches to win Roland Garros, he had to endure beating two Frenchmen and was often derided and booed by the partisan Parisians who longed for their own to triumph.
During the press conference, Stan was relaxed. First, he took questions in English. With zero emotion, he spoke. I don’t even remember what he talked about. He next spoke in French. Samot! I couldn’t understand his fluent French as the mediamen peppered him with queries.
Midway through his interview, I pulled out my phone and snapped a shot. I was quickly approached by a coordinator and told that taking photos was disallowed. Ooops. I didn’t know. I was asked to delete the picture.
Moments after the non-dramatic Q & A, he stood up and walked out of the room — which wasn’t filled to capacity.
Then, as Stan exited, a different atmosphere ensued. The mediamen entered quickly and sat on every available chair. There was a high-strung mood. I soon found out why: like a movie star would enter a hushed room, Mr. Federer gallantly strides inside. There are no claps, obviously; this wasn’t a meet-and-greet with the Roger Federer Fans Club. These were unbiased ladies and gentlemen. But you can’t help the added buzz when he sits across you, face to face.
Ever the gentleman, Roger is polite and respectful. He takes much longer because of more questions.
This happened on Day 3 of the two-week long tournament. And, if you had a crystal ball and predicted that a Swiss would win the men’s title, it wouldn’t have been so surprising. Roger is acknowledged as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).
Only this time, the Swiss isn’t Roger. It’s a Swiss who, last year in Paris, lost in the first round and who, entering the finals last Sunday, previously lost 17 of 20 to Novak.
Never mind him wearing the funniest pair of boxer-like shorts, it’s “Stan The Man.”