I remember watching Looney Tunes cartoons when I was a little boy. An obnoxious character would be asked if he wanted one lump or two with his coffee. The character said, “two,” thinking he would get two lumps of sugar. Instead, he got two whacks on the head with a hammer. Two lumps! Get it?
That was Stan Wawrinka’s brief stay in Bulgaria for the Sofia Open.
Stan the Man won’t stick around long this week. His tournament ended on Monday with a narrow loss to Marius Copil. Wawrinka lost the second-set tiebreaker 7-5, achingly close to advancing. He is caught in the brutal trap tennis players dread.
Which is the biggest problem for Wawrinka right now? Is it the lack of match play? Is it the lack of rankings points? Is it the uncertainty which defines his game in big moments? Is it the collection of tough early-round draws he is receiving at tournaments?
It is not one of the above — it is ALL of the above. Just like the Looney Tunes character who expected something sweet and received something very painful instead, Wawrinka is seated at a buffet table, but instead of eating an assortment of delicious dishes, Wawrinka is having to eat humble pie in all its various flavors.
It is as though the tennis gods are saying, “Okay, Stan, you want to climb back to the top tier of the sport? Let’s see you follow the most difficult path possible. We won’t give you cushy draws so that you can play your way back into form and regain the muscle memory great athletes establish when they know they have regained their winning edge.”
This is something Wawrinka will simply have to work through. Hopefully — from his perspective — he won’t get Milos Raonic in a round of 64 at a major or Marius Copil in a round of 32 at an ATP 250. Hopefully he can play three matches in a week.
It just hasn’t happened yet.
Stan will have to accept that this week was a bust, move to the next week, and hope that small margins (and early-round draws) begin to work in his favor.