Stan Wawrinka has already evolved as a tennis player. This doesn’t mean a player ceases to evolve at some point. Anything but — the great players are constantly evolving and never think they can afford to stop learning. Yet, when placed in a larger context, Wawrinka currently inhabits a world marked by revolution more than evolution.
He knows what he has to do. There is little mystery about the process of building back his ranking and making the climb to renewed prominence on the ATP Tour after being sidetracked by injury. This is not a case in which a player is utterly confused about the way forward. This is not Grigor Dimitrov or Jack Sock or other players who are fundamentally lost.
Wawrinka just needed to be patient with himself and master the big moments against the quality opponents he was facing in the early rounds of tournaments. Wawrinka’s precipitous fall in the rankings put him in this precarious position of having to face high-caliber foes before the quarterfinal round of tournaments. If he wasn’t going to get kind draws or lucky upsets in his section of a bracket, Wawrinka knew he would have to defeat a good player to eventually build back points and gain the match-play rhythm he needs to reestablish his season and his career.
No opponent on tour represented a more common obstacle for Stan in recent months than the man he met once again on Wednesday in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Milos Raonic defeated Wawrinka at the U.S. Open. He defeated him at the Australian Open. Raonic prevented Wawrinka from making significant point gains which could have altered the Swiss’s ranking and seeding situations at tour events in 2019. Had he played an unremarkable player outside the top 50 in New York or Melbourne, Wawrinka probably would have advanced to the second week and made a push toward a seeded position in 2019. As it was, Raonic stood in his way on multiple occasions.
Winning the Rotterdam title does not make or break a tennis player’s season. This and other current tournaments for Wawrinka are important because they will give Stan a chance to push through tight match-play situations and regain the confidence of the man who reinvented himself at age 28 and won three major championships.
The evolution has already occurred. This week in Rotterdam — especially Wednesday’s match against Raonic — represented a chance for Wawrinka to protest his working conditions (being unseeded!) and remind himself he could perform under pressure.
A 6-4, 7-6 victory — with lots of vintage shotmaking throughout — is exactly what Wawrinka was hunting. He finally caught his prize.
Does this mean Stan is a favorite for Indian Wells, or that his Roland Garros stock is undervalued? No — let’s not jump to far-ranging conclusions. This win simply represents a point in time when Wawrinka successfully dealt with a strong opponent in a close match. He can call forth this moment later in 2019 and use it to his advantage.
Stan Wawrinka needed a moment such as this one in Rotterdam. He found it. Now he can move forward, having broken free of the chains imposed on him by Milos Raonic.