If tennis ever comes up with an “unsung hero” award, Pierre Paganini will surely be among the major contenders. There are key team members behind every multiple Grand Slam champion and Paganini has played a major role in the careers of two such men. The Swiss fitness coach, who is a former footballer and athlete, has been part of Roger Federer’s entourage for 15 years and has also been working more recently with Stan Wawrinka.
In the wake of his triumph here at the French Open, Wawrinka paid tribute to a man with the very rare distinction of having helped two 30-year-olds win Grand Slam titles. “He’s a very smart, very good person,” Wawrinka said. “I owe him a lot. He helped me build my physical condition and my mental approach.”
Only 11 thirty-something men have won Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era. The most recent have been Federer, who won Wimbledon three years ago at the age of 30 years and 335 days, and Wawrinka, who was 264 days younger when he beat Novak Djokovic to claim his second Grand Slam title here on Sunday night following his success at last year’s Australian Open.
Both men have enjoyed remarkable fitness. Federer has just played in his 62nd consecutive Grand Slam tournament, which is a record. The world No 2 is the only player to have competed in every Grand Slam competition in the 21st century. Wawrinka, meanwhile, has not missed a Grand Slam event since he played his first here 10 years ago. The two men, nevertheless, are very different specimens. While the light-footed Federer dances around the court, the more sturdy Wawrinka is as strong as a Swiss bank vault.
Magnus Norman, Wawrinka’s coach, believes his charge can stay at the top for a good few years yet “because he has a great fitness coach”. The Swede added: “Pierre Paganini is making all the big plans for Stan, telling us when to rest, when to push.”
Wawrinka, meanwhile, also gives great credit to Norman, who has worked with him for the last two years and has finally guided a player to a Roland Garros title, having coached Robin Soderling when he was runner-up here in 2009 and 2010.
Mats Wilander, seven times a Grand Slam champion, believes his fellow Swede is the best coach in the modern game, though the modest Norman - who finished a runner-up here as a player in 2000 - says the credit for Wawrinka’s success should go to all those coaches who taught him to play the game when he was younger.
“I have been lucky to coach two great athletes who want to succeed so much,” Norman said. “They put effort in every day. No secrets really. Both very different. With these guys, you don’t teach them to play forehands and backhands. It’s more small things that can make a big difference.”
Wawrinka agreed. “Some coaches try to give you confidence, to push you all the time, telling you that you are great, that this is a boxing match and you are going to hit your opponent hard,” the Swiss said. “He is just telling me small things that make a big difference.”
Norman, who has worked to good effect on Wawrinka’s forehand but has left his magnificent one-handed backhand well alone, was asked whether the Swiss would be a contender for Wimbledon, which starts in 20 days’ time.
“We have to calm down a little bit,” Norman said. “He has got the game. He is still not as consistent as the top four guys. He is losing sometimes a bit early in the Masters Series events. This was one win, but the year is long. He has more to prove to be able to be a contender.”
Wawrinka climbed to No 4 in yesterday’s updated world ranking list but insisted that he was not on the same level as Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. “I’m not as good as the Big Four, though I’m good enough to win two Grand Slam tournaments,” he said. “I can beat them in major tournaments, in a semi-final, in a final. But the Big Four will always be the Big Four. I don’t want to be compared with them.”
Norman said that Wawrinka had worked especially hard in the last two months after a period in which he could hardly win a match.
He added: “Everyone told me when I started working with Stan that he was a little bit soft and he was not the man for the big occasions. Throughout the two years we have been together, he has been rock-solid in all the big matches. I feel like he’s playing better than he has ever played at the moment. He is very strong mentally strong and physically.”
Twelve months ago, after Wawrinka lost in the first round here, the player and his coach went to McDonalds for a burger at 11pm. This time they celebrated his success with family and friends over dinner at their hotel.
After a few days at home the new champion will head for Queen’s Club in London and next week’s Aegon Championships. “That’s the good thing and bad thing in tennis,” Wawrinka said. “The good thing is that when you lose, you already have a chance the next week to focus and to have a chance to win. But when you win, you don’t have too much time to enjoy it, because you need to be ready for the next one.”Reuse content