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Australian Open

Muguruza and Wawrinka — the connection

Matt Zemek

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Jerry Lai -- USA TODAY Sports

Garbine Muguruza and Stan Wawrinka are not the same kind of player. One has a compact two-handed backhand, the other a one-hander with a big flourish. These aren’t stylistic twins.

However, they are so much the same player in terms of their tendencies and patterns. They are very clearly the WTA and ATP mirror versions of the other.

They are feelin’ good as hell, as Lizzo might say, at the Australian Open. (Don’t ask me how I know about Lizzo. I have never heard the song, but I have heard ABOUT the song.)

Muguruza and Wawrinka are both in the quarterfinals, and they have both arrived at the quarterfinals of the Australian Open by knocking off top-five seeds. Muguruza demolished Elina Svitolina in the third round, while Wawrinka rallied to beat Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round.

I’m not going to spend this particular article weighing their title chances. I will do that in a separate piece. What I will simply emphasize here is that while it can be somewhat surprising that Muguruza and Wawrinka roared at this specific tournament under these specific circumstances, the much bigger picture shows that these runs are fundamentally unsurprising.

Sure, we didn’t have Muguruza as a top-tier contender for this tournament. I can’t find anyone who did think she was likely to make a run. I did see some people who said Wawrinka might be able to trouble Medvedev if the two players got that far, but I don’t think anyone was picking Stan to beat Medvedev AND Rafael Nadal AND Novak Djokovic to win the title.

Yet, is the work of Muguruza and Wawrinka a jolt to the cognitive system or one’s sense of what is possible in tennis? Hardly… at least if you have been paying attention.

What is true for Muguruza is that while she won’t play well for very long periods of time, she can rise up at a major and easily look like the best player in the world BY FAR. Her two major championships were authoritative conquests. She found a groove and stayed in a groove.

When she won her two major titles, it was hard to look at her and NOT think she had the ability to put the rest of the tennis world at her feet if she wanted. This doesn’t mean we all expected it to happen, only that she had the caliber of tennis in her body which was CAPABLE of winning on a very large scale.

Wawrinka is not quite a player whose game easily suggests he could win truckloads of major titles, but he displayed against Medvedev what he displayed last year against Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open and Stefanos Tsitsipas at the French Open: He is a superb big-match player. He plays down to the level of the competition at ATP 250s and 500s, but he loves the five-set format and the big stage.

Put Stan in front of 15,000 people against an elite player in a high-stakes situation. He is better than his non-Big 3 counterparts, with the possible exception of Dominic Thiem, who has beaten Novak Djokovic in a Roland Garros semifinal. (Over the course of Stan’s career, he obviously is better than Thiem in big moments; today, in early 2020, Stan versus Thiem against the Big 3 is an open question.)

Garbine Muguruza and Stan Wawrinka can come out of nowhere to impress us. They can lie in hibernation for many months and then bust out in full color… and none of us are shocked.

This is who and what they are as tennis players. This is how they win — not all the time, but occasionally, when they stumble around in the dark and somehow find the “ON” switch.

This is their great connection as tennis players. Don’t be surprised when they come out of nowhere at the next major tournament.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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