Even after Stanislas Wawrinka won the Australian Open and overtook Roger Federer in the world rankings, the “Swiss No 1” label never sat easily on the 29-year-old's shoulders. The changing of Switzerland's national guard was emphasised once again on Sunday, however, as Wawrinka completed only his second victory in 15 matches against his fellow countryman to claim the Monte Carlo Masters. Wawrinka triumphed 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 to win his first Masters Series title and condemn Federer to his fourth defeat in his four appearances in finals at the historic tournament.
Wawrinka needed to beat Federer to stop his Davis Cup colleague replacing him at No 3 in the world rankings and at No 1 in the Swiss order. What will matter far more to Wawrinka, however, is the boost to his confidence from a victory over an opponent he still describes as the greatest player of all time.
Although he has not exactly been a lamb to the slaughter in their previous meetings, the only occasion when Wawrinka had got the better of his close friend was on the same court in 2009, when Federer might have had his mind on other matters, having arrived at the tournament fresh from his wedding. This time Federer was in fine form, having disposed of Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. After recovering from a back problem that dogged him last year, the former world No 1 has enjoyed a fine start to 2014.
Wawrinka, in contrast, had struggled to maintain his momentum in the wake of his Melbourne triumph, suffering defeats in recent weeks to Kevin Anderson, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Andrey Golubev. However, in the first all-Swiss final on the men's tour since Marc Rosset defeated Federer in Marseille 14 years ago Wawrinka recovered from a slow start to batter his fellow countryman into submission with the sheer power of his ball-striking.
Federer took charge of the first set, but a short rain break appeared to benefit Wawrinka, who played an excellent tie-break at the end of the second as Federer started to crumble. Once he had made a double break at the start of the third Wawrinka never looked like relinquishing control.
Wawrinka had lost on his two previous appearances in Masters Series finals, to Djokovic in Rome in 2008 and to Rafael Nadal in Madrid last year, but the world No 3 has shown greater mental strength in the last 18 months and firmly established himself among the leading group. Thirty-four of the previous 36 Masters Series titles had been won by one of the Big Four - Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray - but this may be the end of an era.
The French Open starts in less than five weeks' time and although Nadal will be a firm favourite, there is no reason why Wawrinka cannot become part of the equation on what has been his favourite surface in the past. Nadal was stunned by David Ferrer in Monte Carlo, Djokovic is taking a break for an indefinite period to nurse a wrist injury, Federer is uncertain about his schedule because of the imminent birth of his third child and Murray, still fighting to recover his best form following back surgery, is never at his best on clay.