Stanislas Wawrinka finally emerges from Roger Federer's shadow
The Swiss praises his national colleague as 'the best player ever' as he challenges to be the Switzerland's best
When you are the world No 8 and one of the game's outstanding players, you might think it galling to be described perennially as your nation's No 2, forever in the shadow of your fellow countryman. For Stanislas Wawrinka, however, playing second fiddle to Roger Federer has never been a problem.
"To be Swiss No 2 after Roger is still amazing," Wawrinka said. "He's a special tennis player, the best player ever. He has won everything. He's in a different league, on a different level. I'm No 2 in Switzerland, but I feel like No 1, because he is just in a league of his own."
Federer may be the best player in history, but before long he might not be the best in his own country. Wawrinka, aged 28, has been enjoying the season of his life and for several weeks now has been threatening to overhaul his compatriot in the rankings.
Although Federer's performances this week in Basel should secure his place in next month's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, Wawrinka could yet be the man to deny his fellow Swiss a place.
The berths in the season- ending finale go to the eight players with the most ranking points in the calendar year, though the absence of the injured Andy Murray means that ninth place will be sufficient to earn a position. This week's Paris Masters is the final qualifying tournament.
Wawrinka, who is attempting to make the field for the first time, is currently seventh in the list, one position ahead of Federer, who is attempting to appear in the tournament for the 12th year in a row. Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in ninth and 10th places respectively, are not far behind.
At last month's US Open Wawrinka went further than Federer in a Grand Slam for the first time, at the 35th attempt. If Wawrinka had beaten Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and Rafael Nadal in the final he would have overtaken Federer in the world rankings for the first time.
Federer, meanwhile, has been in a downward spiral. While Wawrinka has reached four finals this year and won one title, Federer has one minor title to show from two finals. Having failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002, the former world No 1 has at times looked a shadow of his old self.
"I think this year a lot of things have changed – especially in Switzerland but also in the tennis world," Wawrinka said. "I was the last Swiss player at the US Open and everyone in Switzerland was watching. I feel good with my position. I'm enjoying what I'm doing.
"People in Switzerland are supporting me much more than they did in the past. That's normal. When you have Roger winning everything then people think it's normal to win a Grand Slam – and it's not. When you have someone who has won 17 Grand Slam titles then they think it's nothing when someone reaches the semi-finals of a Masters 1000."
Wawrinka said that having Federer as a fellow countryman had often helped him. "When I arrived in professional tennis I was quite shy," he said. "It was good for me to be in his shadow a little bit. I could just go about my career without having as much pressure.
"He's a close friend. He was already top 10, top six when I arrived. Then he was No 1 for many years. I've had the chance to practise more than 200 times with the No 1 player in the world. I've played Davis Cup and the Olympics with him.
"He always told me that if I needed to ask him anything about tennis I could always call him. And I did. When I arrived he helped me a lot with playing in Grand Slams, about coping with pressure, about playing the best players."
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