Stan Wawrinka has spent most of his life in the shadow of Roger Federer, but if Switzerland are to win the Davis Cup final against France here this weekend it is looking increasingly likely that it will be down to their No 2 player.
After Wawrinka had beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in hugely impressive fashion in the opening rubber today, an out-of-sorts Federer lost 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 to Gaël Monfils to leave the final poised at 1-1 after the first day. Federer’s participation had been in doubt ever since he pulled out of last Sunday’s final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with a back injury and the 33-year-old did not cover the court with his usual speed as Monfils dictated play with attacking exuberance.
With Federer struggling, the Swiss captain, Severin Luthi, faces a difficult decision before tomorrow’s doubles. Marco Chiudinelli (world No 206 in doubles) and Michael Lammer (world No 528) are due to face France’s Julien Benneteau (reigning French Open doubles champion) and Richard Gasquet (world No 26 in singles), but Luthi must be tempted to bring Wawrinka – and perhaps not Federer – into the line-up. If Switzerland could sneak the doubles, a victory for Wawrinka in Sunday’s reverse singles against Monfils would secure the trophy – and hand Federer, whatever he does in the rest of the final, the biggest trophy he has never won.
The latter scenario would be asking much of Wawrinka if Monfils plays like he did today. On his best form on clay it is all but impossible to get the ball past the 28-year-old Parisian, who is arguably the greatest athlete in the modern game.
Federer normally dictates the pace, but instead it was Monfils who stepped into the court to take command. Federer’s movement and ability to get into position are usually unrivalled, but on this occasion he seemed half a yard slower and there were times when he did not even attempt to retrieve shots which on another day might have been within his reach.
Monfils’ brilliance generated a wonderful atmosphere, with a 27,432 crowd setting a Davis Cup record. Hundreds of cowbells brought by the 4,000-odd Swiss supporters had rung out during Wawrinka’s win, but chants of “Allez les Bleus!” drowned them out as Monfils headed for victory.
Wawrinka gave one of his finest Davis Cup performances in beating Tsonga with a demonstration of mental strength as well as aggressive strokeplay. The Swiss No 2 looked assured and cool-headed from the start as he struck his groundstrokes with great power and accuracy and surprised Tsonga with his willingness to attack the net.
The only time Wawrinka faltered was after a spectator shouted out “cry-baby”, the word that had so upset him when Federer’s wife, Mirka, called out during their semi-final at the O2 Arena last week. The shout this time came at 1-1 in the second set, after which Wawrinka lost three games in a row, but he quickly regrouped to claim a convincing victory.Reuse content