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Spare a thought for Stan Wawrinka

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Stan Wawrinka was not as rested as he wanted to be heading into Tuesday’s Roland Garros quarterfinal against Roger Federer.

This is a plain reality. It is a statement no rational person would dispute.

However, #TennisTwitter being what it is, some people viewed it as a “backhanded compliment” of Federer to mention the rest factor and the scheduling, as though that somehow “cheapened” Federer’s feat.

Life is complicated. Tennis often is as well. Therefore, I understand and accept why some would be offended that I pointed out the rest-and-schedule elements of Fedrinka. I get it. I know why fans of athletes (or teams) get upset, and I know why readers of columns or tweets feel the need to push back. It’s normal and not anything to be upset about.

However — and this is part of the complexity of being a sportswriter — I will admit that I do get upset when people who are familiar with my work and have seen my tweets for several years question my professionalism or objectivity on a given topic, when they know full well I have staked out a clearly-articulated position on that topic. They are either being disingenuous or lazy — probably not both, but certainly one. They either looked past my tweets, not being willing to absorb their meaning, or they didn’t bother to spend 10 minutes looking through my tweets at a major tournament or in the midst of a Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory controversy.

So it is with the Stan rest-and-scheduling piece of his loss to Federer.

What do I always say? Circumstances shape matches. You play a match in a given context. It is up to the player in the advantageous position to make full use of his advantage. Federer did, as he so often does. I entered Roland Garros 2019 thinking Stan was the better clay-court player and the bigger threat to make a deep run, but Federer answered the bell on Tuesday. As a result, he has earned superior clay-court status in 2019. He made my assessment flatly incorrect. Darren Cahill, on the Tennis With An Accent Podcast from May 22, just before Roland Garros began, said Federer was the better clay-court player than Stan at the moment. As in most aspects of tennis, Cahill was right.

There is no asterisk attached to this moment for Federer. There is no “yeah, but” related to this achievement for the 37-year-and-10-month-old Swiss marvel. He did what he had to do. Moreover, by winning 12 of 12 sets in the first four rounds, he kept his body fresh for this quarterfinal. He did everything he could to put himself in position to benefit from Stan’s much larger amount of time spent on court at this tournament. Federer maximized his chances, as he so often does.

There is nothing to diminish or reduce the significance and impressiveness of Federer’s accomplishment.

The biggest reason to mention things such as rest and scheduling is to highlight the need for better scheduling at all tennis tournaments. A second reason — almost as important as highlighting the need for improved scheduling — is to make sure that the story of the other athlete, not just the winner, is told.

Rather than diminish Federer, part of the point in referencing the Roland Garros schedule and Wawrinka’s lack of rest is to offer empathy toward Wawrinka by demonstrating an awareness of his plight. It is true that Wawrinka brought some of this on himself by needing over five hours to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday, but not all of this was Stan’s responsibility.

Part of this lack of rest was created by Roland Garros, which put Stan and Grigor Dimitrov on court very late on Friday, instead of making sure to get them on earlier, so that they could play three full sets (if not four or five) in daylight.

Because Stan had to play on Friday and Saturday, his chances of being able to move through Tsitsipas more easily were reduced. There WAS a domino effect from Friday to Saturday to Sunday, which then spilled into Tuesday against Federer.

Stan had something to do with this… but not everything. That story needs to be told and remembered. It is not more important than Federer’s story of tending to his own business and doing everything he was supposed to do, but neither should that story be seen as LESS important and worthy of ignoring.

Can we see the fuller picture now? Mentioning the side details of rest and scheduling is not an excuse for Stan. It is not an undercutting of Federer. They are merely relevant details which paint the full picture of what happened and why.

If we evaluate this match on Tuesday without referencing those outside details, are we telling the full story of the match? I think not… and if we’re not telling the full story, are we — as writers, commentators or podcasters — serving readers and listeners?

I think not.

Spare a thought for Stan Wawrinka, given how schedulers helped to put him in a nasty position… and given how this is hardly the first time Stan has been victimized by this dynamic in a major quarterfinal against Federer.

Recall Wimbledon in 2014. There was no play on Middle Sunday. Wawrinka had to play a third-round match on Manic Monday against Denis Istomin. He had to play a fourth-round match on Tuesday against Feliciano Lopez. He then had to play a quarterfinal against Federer on Wednesday, and as soon as he lost the second set — unable to take a two-set lead — his body faced a huge uphill climb. He faded in the third and fourth sets.

If Wimbledon had played a handful of matches on Middle Sunday to get the men’s draw up to date in both halves, Wawrinka would not have been placed in such a bad situation.

This is not and was not a conspiracy, much as Roland Garros did not CONSPIRE or PLOT to help Federer this year. No, it’s just crappy scheduling, which is par for the course in a poorly-governed sport without a commissioner who could step in and tell the majors that they have to protect players better.

It is a plain reality that Stan Wawrinka has gotten the short end of the stick on scheduling more than once at majors.

Spare a thought for him, keeping in mind that sparing a thought for Wawrinka in no way takes anything away from the remarkable Roger Federer. One merely wishes that all players, not just some, were treated better.

If you have a problem with that last statement, yes, I will be upset.

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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